Exhibit: Charley Harper: An Ordered Universe

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Charley Harper once famously said that he didn't count the feathers of a bird, he counted the wings.

Imagining the difference between what someone who did the former and someone who did the latter would draw creates the perfect visual reference for Harper's highly stylized form. The Cincinnati art superstar, who died in 2007, dubbed the look "minimal realism."

Stripping images of detail and applying bold colors and strong lines, Harper took the chaos of nature and transformed it into ordered yet whimsical scenes. His aesthetic was groundbreaking for the mid-20th century.

"No one was doing wildlife like this at the time. It was all about [John James] Audubon's paintings of the greatest detail," said Tim O'Neill, owner of Reed Arts, a framing store in Grandview that premiered a show of Harper originals earlier this month.

But what O'Neill has confirmed through the positive response to the free exhibit is that the Harper aesthetic is hotter than ever.

"You can see it now, in posters, graphic design," O'Neill said, "but he was one of the first to do it and by hand."

Nearly a dozen original Harper works are on view, including rarely seen sketches drawn for Writer's Digest and early biological study illustrations drawn for Ford Times.

There's a mix of mediums - gouaches to serigraphs to pen on paper. Also interesting is the chronological variety. Viewers will spot the evolution from his early, more detailed illustrations to the flatter, more playful work responsible for his renown.

There are also plenty of re-creations of his most famous pieces, such as "Snowy Egret" and scenes starring his charming cardinals.

Take the time to flip through the bin of posters for sale, as well, to appreciate that the scope of Harper's subject matter was the size of the animal kingdom.

All of the pieces are for sale, and Reed Arts also has ancillary products such as children's items, postcard calendars and coffee table books by Harper for purchase. Serious fans will want the heavy tome of the illustrator's works compiled by his most loyal modern-day design disciple, Todd Oldham.

Charley Harper: An Ordered Universe

Through Jan. 29; originals through Jan. 1

Reed Arts

909 W. Fifth Ave., Grandview