I’ve been developing an obsession with the work of Charley Harper, the mid-century artist who specialized in iconic images of nature, especially birds. I actually first discovered Harper’s work through Purl Soho‘s blog the Purl Bee. They posted on Treglown‘s needlework canvases reproducing Harper’s work. Instantly, I wanted to touch the painted canvases. They were vibrant art work translated into needlecraft. I got the plain owl for Christmas that year, which I still need to frame and hang. Working on the image for so long made me affectionate for all of Harper’s designs.
Now, I realize that Portlandia has all taught us that liking little birds is an extraordinarily hipster thing to do, but I’m okay with that fact when it comes to Charley Harper’s work. His nature illustrations employ simple lines and images, drawing from Cubism and Minimialism, in particular.
The Missing Migrants
Red and Fed
Perhaps it’s his vivid color palette, but I always find Harper’s work reminds me of some of the best Technicolor films, An American in Paris, The Umbrellas of Cherboroug, and Amelie. These films are saturated with color and light. Perhaps cinematographers can’t help themselves when they encounter Paris–all three of these films were filmed in Paris. Yet, I also think this color scheme allows for an interplay between the solemn and the light-hearted. (And I just realized that my interest in color is probably why I so obsessively needed to paint every room in the new house. Color sets the tone for everything, and I operate within a world that embraces both the absurd and the practical, the solemn and the light-hearted.) As in these films, Harper’s work is whimsical without being twee. There’s a reality to his raccoons, cardinals, finches, and owls. The birds that fill his illustrations and National Park Service posters eschew the cute for firm, clear lines, playful variety, and adherence to real behaviors. The birds peck at birdseed, the raccoons peer over chimneys, and the owls guard their nest with perfect scowls.
At any rate, having walls that need pictures, I’m now exploring the world of Charley Harper prints all over again. (Also I have a sneaking suspicion that the brother and sister may be ending up with a print at some point in time.) Besides having a new house, it seems appropriate given the number of birds currently strolling through my yard. The site charleyharperprints.com sells lithographs, among other versions of Harper’s work. (Most of the images here are taken from the site.) Although, I really have a yen to needlepoint one of the bluebirds.
Bluebird Needlepoint Canvas