Sunday, November 25, 2012

Harper art heart of Todd Oldham book

This image is from designer Todd Oldham's new book, 'Charley Harper's Animal Kingdom' (Ammo Books, $100). This image is from designer Todd Oldham's new book, 'Charley Harper's Animal Kingdom' (Ammo Books, $100). / Provided 

When the famed designer Todd Oldham published “Charley Harper: An Illustrated Life” in 2007, he created an international interest that continues to grow for the late Cincinnati nature-oriented artist/illustrator. In fact, helped by that book’s success, Harper artwork and products have become a million-dollar business.

The book helped new generations recognize Harper as a visionary midcentury modernist, because of the stylized, uncluttered, colorful and geometric-shaped precision of his work. This happened at a fortuitous time, just as modernist art, design and architecture was being rediscovered.

Oldham, a Texan whose studio is in New York City, will be in Cincinnati Saturday to introduce and sign copies of his brand-new publication, “Charley Harper’s Animal Kingdom,” at Cincinnati Art Museum and Joseph-Beth Booksellers.

Like the trend-setting first book, this is a large-size monograph. The images have largely been unseen or little seen by the general public, drawn from the Charley Harper Art Studio archives in Cincinnati or from collectors of Harper paintings.

Animal Kingdom, which has more than 300 reproductions of artwork, differs from “An Illustrated Life” in an important way. It assumes the readership is now familiar enough with Harper to not need much introduction into his life and background. Other than a short foreword by Oldham, it lets the illustrations speak for themselves.

In conjunction, the art studio, run by son Brett Harper, is releasing a related, limited-edition portfolio of four prints. “This is really Charley as an art star,” Oldham said in a phone interview of the new book.

“When we did the first book, he was very much an art star to me, but a lot of the world wasn’t familiar with his name at that point. That book showed his process and a lot of other things. This book just shows Charley as an art star.”

Oldham, 51, has designed successful fashion, furniture and accessories lines for major corporations as well as working on hotels and nightclubs. He became a Harper fan as a child, seeing his illustrations for 1961’s “Giant Golden Book of Biology.”

He met Harper after coming here in 2002, and developed a friendship and working relationship that lasted until Harper’s death in 2007 at age 84.

Working on the first book, Oldham got to know Harper, his late artist/wife Edie and Brett. And he knew animals would be a perfect theme for a follow-up publication.

“It was fun to be at dinner with them, hear a bird call, and have them examine it for good chunk of time to determine what bird it was,” he recalled. In those last years, Oldham became a veritable family member.
Charley Harper Art Studio has licensed Oldham to contract with companies to produce Harper-related design objects. Next year, Designtex will produce Harper textiles and wall coverings, Birch Organic Fabrics will make cotton fabrics for quilts, and Gold Leaf Design Group will offer 3-D figurines.

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