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Charley Harper Beguiled by the Wild Process


Charley Harper: Beguiled by the Wild

Charley Harper’s illustrations bring the wonder of the natural world into the built environment.

There is a universal appeal to the work of Charley Harper (1922-2007), the American illustrator known for combining a passion for the natural world with a minimalist, geometrically reduced style and an irresistible sense of humor. Armed with an uncanny ability to capture the wonder of the natural work, Harper imaginatively investigates the similarities between human and animal behavior through minimal line drawings, while playfully depicting animal physiology using shapes, colors, patterns and textures for unexpected and always fascinating results.

Designer Todd Oldham tracked Harper down towards the end of his life to produce a book about his work. It was through Todd’s efforts that Designtex president Susan Lyons rediscovered her love for Harper’s oeuvre. She recalls, “I’ve always loved the modern sensibility that Charley brought to his art. His idea of “abstracted realism” is very appealing to me. I loved the ‘Golden Book of Biology’ as a kid, but I didn’t know at the time that he was the artist who had done that work.”

Lyons had the idea to produce a focused upholstery and wallcovering collection for pediatric healthcare using Harper’s work, in recognition of not just its aesthetic appeal, but its deep biophilic resonance as well. “Once we started to think about how Charley’s work tied into biophilic design principles, we got excited about the potential of enhancing wellbeing in any environment,” shares Sara Balderi, Design Director at Designtex. “Charley’s use of bold colors and clean lines create a sense of harmony and vibrancy that resonates with viewers. By focusing on the intricate patterns and relationships in nature, his art invites people to see the beauty and interconnectedness to the world around them.”

Since that first collection in 2013, Designtex has continued to incorporate Harper’s artwork into its collections. At the end of 2021, it re-released ‘Beguiled in the Wild’, an artful melange of beasts, bugs, fish, fowl, and foliage, arranged like the interlocking pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and sketched in clean lines against a vivid single-color background that Harper originally created in 1994, in 16 new colorways each chosen to reflect the artist’s ethos. The artwork itself can be experienced on multiple levels; from the pure, unadulterated line work to the impressive technical savvy and true-to-life depictions of the various species, Harper’s creative ingenuity is a wonder to behold.

At Home with Charley Harper

Designer Todd Oldham talks with Charley Harper about the evolution of his work as an artist, his love of nature, his disenchantment with realism, and his embrace of simplicity.