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Water Striders

Focal Point

By Sarah Stephens · February 14th, 2007 · Focalpoint

Even after glancing at the title of this piece I think to myself, what exactly am I looking at here? I see what could pass for a pair of scissors. I also notice a distinctly geometric, seemingly abstract pattern. But wait -- suddenly my eyes uncross, "abstract" patterns meld into clearly identifiable forms and the title of this work makes perfect sense.

In typical Charley Harper fashion, WATER STRIDERS (JESUS BUGS) utilizes pared-down geometric forms to depict a highly stylized scene featuring the simple beauty found in nature and the animal kingdom.

The label "Jesus Bugs" seems logical, witty even, since the scene at hand portrays a group of insects walking on water.

Yet Harper's skill in reducing forms to their simplest, most visually captivating geometric essence is only part of his genius. Many, including designer Todd Oldham, have praised Harper for his "remarkable and exquisite color sense," and this piece is certainly no exception.

While Harper is frequently recognized for his use of vibrant, eye-catching color, "Water Striders" features more subdued tones to accomplish a subtle visual illusion. It almost seems like a version of "connect the dots" to bring stark lines and bright white circles together to create an insect. Then to examine more closely the dark brown shapes beneath these forms leads to the realization that each figure has a corresponding shadow.

Et voila! Upon careful inspection, an abstracted, geometricized, two-dimensional pattern transforms into a three-dimensional naturescape. In classic Baroque fashion, one can even pinpoint the location and direction of a distinct light source, although none is pictured, by studying where the shadows fall. Now if we could just get those bugs to turn water into wine. Harper's work is part of Rotation 1 of Graphic Content: Contemporary and Modern/Art and Design on display at the Contemporary Arts Center through Feb. 26.

FOCAL POINT turns a critical lens on a singular work of art. Through Focal Point we slow down, reflect on one work and provide a longer look.



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