Determination is an important quality in an artist. Even with obstacles thrown in his way, Horace Pippin painted. An African American born in 1888, twenty-four years after the abolition of slavery, Pippin had few artistic opportunities. He taught himself how to paint and his natural talent flourished. Circumstances that would have easily ended his career only made him stronger.
From a young age, Pippin loved art. A lack of both resources and access to art education did not discourage him. This was a passion that could not be suppressed. He illustrated his school work and could often be found sketching. At the age of ten, he answered an ad for a drawing contest. He won a box of art supplies, including colored pencils, paint, and brushes.
With his mother’s health in decline, Pippin left school at 14 to support his family. At the outbreak of World War I, Horace Pippin joined the famous all African American 369th Infantry. While fighting, Pippin’s right arm was badly injured and he was discharged.
Losing function of his right arm – his drawing arm – did not stop Pippin from creating art. With a poker holding up his right arm and his left hand guiding, Pippin painted. It was his therapy, a way to deal with the horrors of war and to celebrate his culture.
In his works, he recreated scenes from history, the Bible, and every day African American life. The details and exploration of social politics made him stand out. He was among the first African American artists to express concern about war and racial issues. Slavery was still in living memory, which casts a shadow over Pippin’s works. His most famous series was one of abolitionist John Brown.
Folk art is typically defined by bright colors, flat shapes, and clean lines. These qualities are seen in Pippin’s works, but there is an added depth to his style. Pippin’s preferred medium was oil paint on burnt wood. Burnt wood, or pyrography, gives an interesting texture to the works. Wood grain peeks through in the unpainted portions of his work, giving it a rich look.
Three years after his injury, Horace Pippin finished his first painting. While he was hindered by his injury, Pippin produced 75 works over the course of his career. After being featured in a home country show, his work became part of a traveling group exhibition MOMA put together in 1938. This gave him national recognition and paved the way for more diversity in American art.
Horace Pippin is remembered for both his art and his legacy as a groundbreaker. He was the first African American to have paintings recognized by the West Chester County Art Association and was featured in major publications such as Newsweek and Vogue. Esteemed illustrator N.C. Wyeth praised his paintings. This kind of success in the face of opposition continues to be a source of inspiration.
Kenny Ackerman is an Art Dealer in New York, specializing in Fine Art Paintings from 19th-21st century Europe and America. To buy or sell original paintings by artists we represent, contact Ackerman’s Fine Art here.