Charley Harper has been one of my favorite illustrators since I first discovered his work a few years ago.  His ability to capture life and complex scenes in nature in their most distilled down forms is what attracts me most to his work.  Rather than painting every strand of fur or feather, Charley Harper took the opposite approach in his work and left only what was necessary to depict his subjects in a style he calls “minimal realism.”  Using simplified shapes and forms and vibrant color palettes, the animals Harper paints seem to almost come alive before our very eyes.  Harper did not paint animals merely sitting and facing the viewer; his love for bird-watching and the naturalist lifestyle is evident in his composition choices.  Harper paints his subjects going about their daily activities in their natural environments, undisturbed by the viewer.

Charley Harper lived and worked in Cincinnati, OH with his wife Edie Harper.  A graduate of the Art Academy of Cincinnati, he first began to make a name for himself in the late fifties after illustrating the The Golden Book of Biology, which now sells for nearly $200 on ebay.  Harper also regularly contributed illustrations to Ford Motor Company’s Ford Times magazine for two decades.  His work was extremely popular and sold as screenprints which still available for purchase today.

Charley Harper also created over 50 environmental and biodiversity themed posters for non-profit conservation groups, wildlife sanctuaries, national parks and nature preserves over the span of his career.  His brilliant use of composition, shape and color all work harmoniously to create visually striking, wildly complex yet simplified images.  Harper once said of his work, “When I look at a wildlife or nature subject, I don’t see the feathers in the wings, I just count the wings. I see exciting shapes, color combinations, patterns, textures, fascinating behavior and endless possibilities for making interesting pictures. I regard the picture as an ecosystem in which all the elements are interrelated, interdependent, perfectly balanced, without trimming or unutilized parts; and herein lies the lure of painting; in a world of chaos, the picture is one small rectangle in which the artist can create an ordered universe.”


Janice Rosenthal


11 responses »

  1. Jessica Langstine says:

    Wow. That was extremely well written. I have heard of Charley Harper over the years, and seen many of his posters throughout my life. They are very fun to look at, and remind me of illustrations in children’s’ books. I found it to be very interesting that he thinks of the ecosystem in his style of painting. I guess when I thought of painting in my life it never occurred to me that this would be something to think about. That’s pretty cool that he incorporates the bigger picture into his art.

  2. Elaine Wu says:

    Charlie Harper is one of my favorite artists! His animal designs are so unique and graphic and appealing!

  3. Matt Decker says:

    Harper really does have some awesome work, really flawless designs. I dig the Biology book a lot, hes definitely an inspiration to me as well.

  4. Eric De Barros says:

    This is awesome! Ive never seen this guy before but I love the graphic style of his stuff. (Janice, I think you could do some stuff equally/more badass in a similar approach). The illustration just above the biology book cover is my favorite.

    I hope to make some equally as powerful stuff over the break. I love how simple but effective this work is. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Bianca Pol says:

    I also really love the graphic and geometric quality to this. HIs posters are incredibly complex and interesting. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Daniel Hanks says:

    Yeah, the simple, flat, graphic shapes make this work very pleasing to look at.

  7. Wow, his work is really prolific! Its very well read, and has a very crisp feel. Does he by any chance work with mathematics to create the concepts or composition? I really enjoy the colors and how they give life to all of the animals and backgrounds!
    -Thank you for sharing!

    -Destiny Burch

  8. April White says:

    The art work is very vibrant and lively. I love bold colors that just jump out at you. I myself cannot draw worth a crap (ID major lol) but I truly enjoy art and wish I had a better grasp on how to draw.

  9. Thanks Eric! I definitely have been inspired by Charley Harper’s works and have tried to incorporate some of his aesthetic into my own work and will continue to do so! 🙂

    Destiny, I’m not sure if he does use some kind of mathematical process or if he is just a natural at composition. I searched around google for a bit and couldn’t dig up anything, but I’m curious now too!

  10. Charlotte Mao says:

    These are beautiful illustrations. I taught kids grade 1-5 in a summer school type camp this past summer and I know for a fact that this style really captivates young children. It’s so appealing and easy to read. Using this art is a great way to educate kids.

  11. Ann Putney says:

    These are incredible! It’s very inspirational. I’ll be bookmarking Charley Harper’s name. I wish the The Golden Book of Biology wasn’t $200. I want it! I’m interested in doing non profit work so his posters really tickle my fancy

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