Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Charley Harper

I’m in my last week of Quarter II and it’s going very well thank you!  In addition to completing my 7 page hand drafted floor plan and my History of Furniture & Architecture notebook, I’m busy is with my 2D final project. 

With 2 Dimensional Design, I’ve been asked to choose an artist and a company to write about.  Final project:  create an ad for that company pretending you are the artist.  After reviewing the list of artist options, I immediately chose Charley Harper.  His drawings grabbed me immediately.  Who is Charley Harper, you ask?

Born in August 1922, Charley Harper was a Cincinnati- based American Modernist artist.  He was best known for his highly stylized wildlife prints and poster and book illustrations.

Harper grew up on his family farm in Frenchtown, West Virginia.  This has a huge influence on his work.  He later left his farm to study art at the Art Academy of Cincinnati and won the academy’s first Stephen H. Wilder Traveling Scholarship, which allowed him to travel the country.  He married fellow artist Edie McKee shortly after graduation.  They later formed Harper Studios.

During his career, he illustrated numerous books including The Golden Book of Biology and Charley Harper’s Birds and Words.  He also illustrated in magazines such as the Ford Times and completed many prints, posters and other works.  His subjects were usually natural - mostly birds with prominent features.  Charley created work for many nature-based organizations, including the National Park Service, Cincinnati Zoo, Cincinnati Nature Center, Hamilton County (Ohio) Park District and Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Pennsylvania.

Harper refers to his style as “minimal realism” - a spare, geometrical style. He tried to capture the essence of his subjects with the fewest possible visual elements.  He writes, “When I look at a wildlife or nature subject, I don’t see the feathers in 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 the painting; in a world of chaos, the picture is one small rectangle in which the artist can create a order universe.”  The artist’s playful style combines straight and curved lines and flat areas of carefully selected colors.

Image from http://day-lab.blogspot.com/2007/11/ford-times-charley-harper.html

Fashion designer Todd Oldham, a bold color fixture since the 1990s, happened to run across an old Ford Motor company magazine in 2001.   “I couldn’t figure out why my hands were zombie to this thing … I bought the (magazine) and then looked up Charley Harper.  Didn’t know who the guys was, but oh my God, what a genius!”  Oldham later visited Harper and together they collaborated on the book, Charley Harper: An Illustrated Life, just completed several weeks before Harper’s death.  Oldham writes of Harper, “Charley’s inspired yet accurate color sense is undeniable, and when combined with the precision he exacts on rendering only the most important details, one is always left with a sense of awe.”

I couldn’t agree more.  As an interior designer, I was taken by the use of color and shape Harper uses.  The colors blend and are very harmonious and could easily be worked into a room as a print, fabric or even a wall covering.  I love his use of tiny line weights that give great texture and detail to his work, yet at the same time keep the final product simple.  I also could envision his work appearing on dinnerware (which has been already done once), on placemats and napkins, towels and other types of home goods.   The prints would work well in a kids room or office.   I could even see it work on the cover of the annual Neiman Marcus (the company I have chose) catalog as it has wide appeal and is very pleasing to the eye.  Overall, I concur with Oldham; Charley Harper is brilliant, and I love his work – I only wish there was more to come.    

Charley Harper died on Sunday, June 10, 2007 after a battle with pneumonia. His works can still be purchased on his website and on Amazon and eBay, of course. 

And with that, I’m off to finish my Charley Harper Neiman Marcus catalog cover…hopefully it will get me an A.

Love, C

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1 comment:

  1. Wonderful illustrations, adore his designs and sense of color!

    I have a Giveaway from the French Basketeer I think you will love!

    Art by Karena