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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

There is Art and then there is Art

FINAL "Egrets and Mangroves" 14 x 18 acrylic on canvas; original in barn wood frame
Because the appreciation of art is subjective and personal, it is difficult to define what is and what isn’t. There are standards and elements that may be judged in one way or another; but here again, the perspective of the judge is also a personal opinion call.

I admire people who experiment and risk all in their creative journey. Sometimes you don’t know what will work unless you give it a try. In art and fashion I hate the claim that “One size fits all.” They never do! That one size may drown a small person or embarrass those who are too large.

Painting styles and techniques are never the same either. New artists may copy their teacher or the masters until they discover what works best for them. But you never will if you don't explore on your own the possibilities.


One such experimenter was Charley Harper, Illustrator. Some of his bird artwork was presented on Antiques Roadshow in Iowa a few weeks ago. The owner was amazed that at auction the suggested going price was between $12,000 to $24,000 each. 

According to the Roadshow expert, Harper’s work is a “hot” item. His style blends in well with today’s contemporary straight lines and patterns. On Charley’s professional web site we learn that:

“Charley Harper's unique minimalist approach is unmistakable. From his groundbreaking mid-century illustrations for Ford Times Magazine and Golden Books and his impeccably composed posters for the National Parks and other wildlife organizations, to his whimsical serigraph and giclée prints, Charley Harper's art is a beloved treasure and an inspiration to an entire generation of artists and designers.”


In a style Harper called "minimal realism", Charley Harper captures the essence of his subjects with the fewest possible visual elements. When asked to describe his unique visual style, Charley responded:

"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 lays the lure of the painting; in a world of chaos, the picture is one small rectangle in which the artist can create an ordered universe."

He contrasted his nature-oriented artwork with the realism of John James Audubon, drawing influence from Cubism, Minimalism, Einsteinium physics and countless other developments in Modern art and science. His style distilled and simplified complex organisms and natural subjects, yet they are often arranged in a complex fashion. On the subject of his simplified forms, Harper noted:

"I don't think there was much resistance to the way I simplified things. I think everybody understood that. Some people liked it and others didn't care for it. There's some who want to count all the feathers in the wings and then others who never think about counting the feathers, like me."

The results are bold, colorful, and often whimsical. The designer Todd Oldham wrote of Harper, "Charley's inspired yet accurate color sense is undeniable, and when combined with the precision he exacts on rendering only the most important details, one is always left with a sense of awe."



Charley, on numerous examples, also went outside the medium of graphic art and included short prose poems for the artwork he made. We can learn so much from Harper's life and illustrations. Whatever you decide to do as you develop your artistic style, enjoy it and love what you do!  (I decided to add my tiger painting below as it's a similar composition as Charley's but in a far different style)

"Namesake" 24 x 18 acrylic on canvas