Top: Bear In The Birches. Below: details from Unzipped, Beetle Battle, Diving Pelican, Woodthrush, Pfwhooooo!, Serengheti Spaghetti, & Skimmerscape.
Yesterday I was having the car washed and while trying to keep Aya & I entertained for 20 mins, we browsed the bookshelves of the car-wash shop. There were some Charley Harper children’s books, which I’ve flicked through before and always thought his work looked striking, however these kind of books don’t seem to do his work justice – I realised I had previously been put off those books because of the quality of reproduction and the seemingly slapped together selection (maybe it’s just me, but I’ve found this to be a bit of a trend with publishers of children’s books, who seem to want to make a quick buck by putting an easy kids ‘ABC’ book together). This time I decided to look past what was bugging me and studied Harper’s images more carefully, paying more attention to how he worked with detail and composition. And so I decided to do a little more research into Charley Harper, beyond the world of the 3yr old’s board book!
Not all of his work appeals to me I have to admit, but Harper does have a wonderful sense of geometry and line, and some of the most fascinating parts of his images are in the smaller details – the little shapes that create a leg, the lines that create movement, the layering of information, background merging with foreground, the intense combination of pattern. Some of the images and elements become almost completely abstract, until you look again.
In describing his unique style, Harper said, “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”.
He is making me look around a little differently today.
You can see more of his prints at www.charleyharperprints.com
Collections of Charles Harpers illustrations in various forms can be found at this flickr pool, including his beautiful mosaic at The John Weld Peck Federal Building in Cincinnati OH.