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Friday, September 17, 2010

Horace Pippin

Most of us today are familiar with folk art.  Unfortunately, most of what people know about folk art begins and ends with the story of folk artist, Grandma Moses.  It is almost legendary, how Anna Mary Robertson Moses was "discovered" in the late years of her senior citizenship as well as her methodical work habits, and the  blatant nostalgia in her work.  Many are aware of the famous people who collected her farmscapes and family interiors, and the astronomical prices her work brought even before, but especially after her death at the age of 101.  But Grandma Moses didn't "invent" folk art.  So-called "untrained" and/or itinerant artist are sprinkled through many European cultures and were especially prevalent in America as far back as the Frontier days.

In the 1930's however, folk-art was rediscovered in this country.  It came to be cherished by the East-Coast "elite" including the Rockefellers and other monied families who relished the story-telling simplicity of its compositions, subject matter, style, and painting technique.  Among the most important artists working at that time in that manner was the African-American painter Horace Pippin.  Born in 1888, in West Chester Pennsylvania, the grandson of slaves, he grew up in upstate New York.

Interior, 1944, Horace Pippin
Though entirely self-taught, Pippen was familiar with modernism.  He found his own brand of abstraction in the stylization of natural froms into flat patterns and delicate linear rythmns.  His work centered on a number of themes including rural genre scenes, biblical pictures, and the history of his slave heritage.  As a boy, Horace got his earliest artistic encouragement when he won a mail-in art contest.  His prize--a set of watercolors and a box of crayons.

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