To me, Charley Harper (1922–2007) is the art king of the animal kingdom.
His geometric prints have long adorned various walls of my home, from basset hounds to giraffes to crows in the snow—which was all probably inevitable, given that I grew up in Cincinnati, and his work joyfully saturates the city. Though he was born in West Virginia, Harper attended the Art Academy of Cincinnati (where he would later teach) and settled in the city. His art can be found in incredible mosaic form in the John Weld Peck Federal Building, at Pearson Hall of nearby Miami University, at Cincinnati’s main convention center, in spot illustrations galore for the city’s national magazines of the era (such as Writer’s Digest) and, nowadays, in giant murals on buildings and in shops galore. (I once wrote a magazine piece about Harper and his wife, the artist Edie McKee, that took me to his wooded Midcentury modern home—and the first thing you see when you approach his house is a giant ladybug painting.)
As for his unique approach to his subject matter: “When I look at a wildlife or nature subject, I don’t see feathers, fur, scapulars or tail coverts—none of that. I see exciting shapes, color combinations, patterns, textures, fascinating behavior and endless possibilities for making interesting pictures,” he once said. “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.”
One throughline of his output: birds. And so today, on National Bird Day, we’re here to celebrate his take on a medley of them. (Didn’t get what you wanted for the holidays? All the prints below are linked to the official Charley Harper site, where the images derive from.)
And now, for Harper’s flighted oeuvre …