Charley Harper - The Artist
Charley Harper (b. 1922 in West Virginia) provides us with a unique view of animals and other aspects of the natural world - not through realistic paintings, but by means of stylized drawings and paintings that capture the essence of his subjects using the fewest elements. He describes his style as minimal realism. In his art, the parts of the creature or ecological system are all there and are recognizable, but distilled in a manner that enhances our appreciation for their unique combinations of shapes and colors (i.e., less is more). He likes to joke that he doesn’t count the feathers of the birds he paints, just the wings. His different perspective on the world always includes a little humor and mystery.
Although trained as a realistic painter (Cincinnati Art Academy 1947), Charley soon realized that realism would “reveal nothing about the subject that nature had not done better.” Combining the skills and drafting tools of the architect with the aesthetic sense of the painter, he began to develop his distinctive style that aims to help us want to preserve the natural treasures that remain.
In addition to his many acrylic paintings on canvas, Charley has designed over 50 “bio” posters for non-profit conservation groups, nature centers and zoos, United States national parks and monuments, and international wildlife sanctuaries and biosphere preserves. One of the first federally commissioned posters was the ecology of Glacier Bay National Park in the 1960s. Other works include the design of ceramic tile murals for the Federal Building and Convention Center in Cincinnati, as well as the Biology Building at Miami University in Ohio. He has also illustrated interpretive displays for Everglades National Park in Florida. In addition, Charley has created over 100 limited-edition silk-screen prints and many lithographed open edition prints.
Charley has produced two books of his prints and paintings, Charley Harper’s Birds & Words (1968, out-of-print) and Beguiled By the Wild: The Art of Charley Harper (1994, Flower Valley Press). Before those books, he also illustrated two books for a younger audience through the Golden Press, The Golden Book of Biology and The Animal Kingdom.
In 2000 Charley was invited by Garry McKenzie to the Byrd Polar Research Center at The Ohio State University to discuss painting a lithograph poster that would address global environmental change. Here he learned the scope of our research, including the ice core program of Lonnie Thompson and Ellen Mosley-Thompson and their team. Later he unveiled his own interpretation of the global warming problem, called WARMING WARNING, employing an image of Earth as a scoop of ice cream melting in a cone against a backdrop of the galaxies. It is a powerful message of loss, climate change, uniqueness of our planet, and urgency to global citizens of all ages. We are indeed fortunate to have this famous Ohio artist and conservationist collaborate with us in our outreach on global environmental change. We thank him for his support of BPRC.
Examples of his artwork are on two websites:
1) www.hamiltonparks.org/education/natures_niche/order.html (Nature’s Niche Gift Shop, Hamilton County (OH) Parks, where posters, ornaments, T-shirts, note cards, and other items may be purchased).
2) www.fabframes.com (Fabulous Frames & Art, offering prints and posters for sale in this “virtual” catalog of Charley’s wall art).
The WARMING WARNING (Global Warming) poster is available for purchase from the Byrd Polar Research Center and, along with original paintings and other two-dimensional artworks, directly from the artist himself (Charley Harper, 699 Reynard Avenue, Cincinnati, OH 45231).