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Bird Artist Charley Harper’s Lasting Legacy

May 16, 2011

Charley is an artist that has touched the hearts of Americans for over 50 years, though his work sadly hasnt touched many of us in the UK, but he is one artist whose style appeals to my taste  and I would like to share his art with you. In  my artist statement I that I try to move away from the “bird on a twig” picture (that’s not a derogatory statement by the way )

A statement which is supported by the acclaimed wildlife artist …Robert Bateman, “Sadly, I feel much wildlife art is… When you see it, you feel you have seen it a thousand times before – yet another wolf, or another loon, or some other overworked subject done in the same old way. And, it looks as if it is done with a great deal of effort – every feather or every hair painted in great detail, but no sense of form or air or space or time, and often flat as a pancake”.

Yet, with Charley Harper’s work he makes it his focus not only to simplify his art but to make his pictures flat. “Flat as a pancake”, so an element considered as “no go area” in making art has worked extremely well for Charles Harper. His technique really works for me, and again shows how your imagination can bring many benefits, especially originality.


Wrented by Charley Harper, a wren perched on  top of human skull,skull as a nest,charley harper art,charley harper bird paintings,Charley Harper Art - Serigraphs by the late Charles Harper,Charles Harper, Charley Harper, Serigraph, Silkscreen, silkscreen process, Cincinnati, Frame House Gallery, Mill Pond Press, Harper Art, Harper Artwork, Charley Harper Artwork,

With a title such as “Wrented”, you will see that Charlie liked to add a spin with puns to his work…some are very cheesy indeed.  He describes his style as minimal realism, minimal it may be, but its effectiveness in delivering a thoughtful kick to the viewer is more than minimal, I think that is why his bird art has been very successful. He stated that he couldn’t improve on nature so he approached his subject from a different perspective, this in fact should be a key factor to all artists who embark on a professional career, without originality you will just vanish into obscurity.

“Blue Jay Patrol”

Blue Jay patrol by Charley Harper,charley harper prints,charley harper print,charlie harper artist,harper art,charley harper art,charley harper artwork,charley harper artist,charles harper print,charlie harper art, I too like to add design to my art, but I don’t think I could reduce it to the levels which Charley Harper acieved, personally I find it too “straight”, I need to put some curves into my bird art. That said, he has left us with a weighty and  lasting tome of avian art for artists to study, appreciate and gain inspiration. Charley painted at his studio near Cincinnati, Ohio, where his family still lives today.  My favourite picture was created in 1982 titled, Tern,Stones, and Turnstones.

“Tern, Stones, and Turnstones”

Tern,Stones and Turnstones by Charley Harper,harper prints,charley harper illustrator,charley harper an illustrated life,charley harper birds,charlie harper illustrator,charlie harper an illustrated life,charlie harper artwork,charley harper illustrations,

What I find clever about this picture, is the ease at which you can overlook the Tern. It wasn’t until I re-read the title, that I began to look for the Tern. The Turnstones have taken control of the picture and my eyes only saw Turnstones and the stones…I had to search for the Tern. With the strong diagonal lines and white spots on the Turnstones’ heads, these elements just lead me up and down the picture, it was if half of my brain was asleep…again! I hope I could produce such an  impact in my work , I would be happy.

 Charles Harper’s Words

“…remember that I didn’t start out to paint a bird – the bird already existed. I started out to paint a picture of a bird, a picture which didn’t exist before I came along, a picture which gives me a chance to share with you my thoughts about the bird. Once you accept this seemingly simplistic but really quite profound premise, you will aprreciate the many varied approaches to the making of pictures, all of which start where realism leaves off, but all of which require an understanding of realism for their successful execution.”

Related Links

Charles Harper’s Original Art

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