As a graduate student studying for my MFA in Illustration I stumbled upon the work of the late Charley Harper (1922-2007). How I wish I had seen his work sooner and had had the opportunity to meet the man. Seeing his highly simplified and structured illustrations, I felt “finally this is it.” The shapes, the textures, the compositions, the shapes, the shapes, the shapes! There is a peace within his organized picture making, no angst here. No tortured souls expressing their individual egos uprising. Thank you Mr. Harper. Instead he gave us a new world, one stripped of unnecessary baggage. Under it all, inside the living, is the truth of who we are. To see that truth takes practice at seeing beyond the surface special effects. Mr. Harper’s work does that for me. The purity of his vision reminds me of poetry, where each word is carefully and consciously chosen. Mr. Harper must have done the same with his images. Each line, shape, value, color, and texture had to be carefully and consciously chosen to convey the emotion, the action, and the story.
Am I inspired? Wholeheartedly. I have Charley Harper images surrounding me in my studio. As I work out my compositions and hit a devilish problem, I glance at Harper’s art and ask, “What would Charley Harper do?” In that moment, I am reminded to simplify, look for the essence, shape out the core.
What surprises me so much about this style of art, is that as simplified and stylized as it is, as devoid of fancy effects as possible, Harper’s art is full of peace, joy, love and hope. That is the world I live in, an honest truth of heaven on earth.
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