Friday, February 1, 2008

A favorite artist: Charley Harper

One of my all-time favorite artists passed away last year. Unfortunately, because he wasn't hugely famous, I didn't know, until I looked up his art today.

Charley Harper was a brilliant modern artist who was able to capture nature in a unique way, using drafting tools and minimalism. His works ranged from endearing baby animals (Armadittoes, Family Outing, and, one of my favorites, Convivial Pursuit, as well as Vowlentine and Foxsimilies), to predation (Arctic Circle, Tall Tail, Owl on the Prowl, among others), to even animal sex (Romance On The Richter Scale, The Wedding Feast). There are some that are just plain cute or funny, showing cool little things about the animal world, such as Unzipped, which depicts a moulting crayfish, or Dolfun, which shows an adorable pair of ocean friends.

The cool thing about Harper's work is that, while the lines are simple, there are so many little quirks to nearly every piece. Sometimes, I look at one, and it takes me a minute to realize what I'm seeing--and once I do, I am amazed! His titles are usually hilarious, and each piece has a little story to go with it, usually one paragraph, that is often cute or funny. If you're a nature lover, you will catch the little in-jokes, which gives you a good feeling. Even if you're not, though, his art is beautiful, entertaining, and so variable that there is something for everyone. He has a number of works with raccoons, and he is also especially fond of owls. Personally, I am thrilled with the number of woodpecker pieces he has done.

I own Beguiled by the Wild: The Art of Charley Harper, which is a wonderful book containing quite a few of his paintings and the accompanying paragraphs. I would LOVE to have Charley Harper: An Illustrated Life, but it is pretty expensive. The gallery that sells most of his stuff, Fabulous Frames & Art, has several limited editions of the book--some of which are $400.

He also did some posters for the National Park Service, which I'd love to have copies of eventually:
Barrier Islands is probably my favorite one.
The Alpine Northwest
The Canyon Country
The Desert
The Rocky Mountains large - small
The Sierra Range

Edited to add: He also did a poster for the Cloud Forest School of Costa Rica. Sweet!

I am deeply saddened at the loss of Mr. Harper. He was unique, funny, and a real boon to the appreciation of nature. Thank you, Mr. Harper, for your life's work.


Ashley said...

How extraordinary. What a wonderful find. I'm gonna see if I can't find myself one of his art books, and read up.

How sad that he's died it would have been much better to discover him while he is still alive, but at least now I can experience some of the creative energy of his life.

Thanks for this post!

Kat said...

Wonderful! Thank you for sharing this. This is the kind of stuff I can spend hours looking at.

Rachel said...

Harper was a fellow Cincinnatian. My co-reporter actually interviewed him for a story once. She has two of his prints, purchased long before his death. The prices have gone up dramatically now.