On the day which would have been Charley’s 100th Birthday, we celebrate the incredible life and career of an artist who brought joy into the homes of many.
“Life can be full of wild choices. To grow up in the countryside of West Virginia and choose to be an artist - wild! My father, Charley Harper, used to joke that his neighbours thought ‘Art’ was just a man’s name. To strike off on a career in art was to be a pioneer, because it meant that he must trust his instincts and voracious natural talent to guide him through the uncharted wilderness of the American art scene.” - Brett Harper, son of Charley Harper.
Charley Harper was a working artist in the truest sense of the phrase, taking commissions, freelancing while he had a day job, teaching at the Art Academy of Cincinnati, and working until late at night, both to refine his craft and provide for his wife Edie, and their son Brett.
He was prolific during every single chapter of his artistic career, one which spanned six decades, and included, at a best guess, 5,500 original works.
Ladybugs, racoons, rabbits, otters, manatees, koalas, mice, elephants, hermit crabs, spiders, zebras, oxen, butterflies, fish, water bugs, armadillos, and just about every species of bird populate this sprawling oeuvre. People appear in Harper’s earlier work for advertisements and textbooks, but eventually they disappear. Humans start to show up again at the tail end of his career, but they stay in the shadows. Instead of people we see evidence of them instead: bulldozers, development, rising sea levels. Despite these later, more alarming pieces, Harper’s work is still typically described as whimsical, witty, and brilliant - which it is.
Read more about Charley’s life in an interview with the artist's son, Brett Harper, and illustration expert, Margaret Rhodes and explore the history of Harper and his vast collection of works in Wild Life.