Monday, January 14, 2013
Book Review: A Spash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin, by Jen Bryant (Alfred A. Knopf, 2013
This new picture book biography by Jen Bryant chronicles the unusual story of Horace Pippin, a self-taught African American folk artist who didn't complete his first painting until he was over forty years old. Born in 1888, Horace quickly demonstrated a love of drawing, and everyone loved his pictures. One day, Horace entered a magazine contest, and won his first art supplies--paints, colored pencils, and brushes. In 8th grade, he had to quit school to go to work to help out his family, but he continued making pictures using whatever materials he could find.
Horace joined the army and went to France to fight in World War I, and even in the horrible trenches, where conditions were miserable, Horace filled his notebooks with drawings for his friends. But a serious injury to his arm by a bullet left Horace unable to lift or move his arm the way he used to. Would he ever be able to draw again?
But Horace's desire to create was not easily stopped, and he managed to teach himself to paint by using his left hand to hold up his right. Through his art he expressed the pain of his war experiences, as well as chronicling a variety of other subjects from domestic scenes of women working in the kitchen to Bible stories and scenes of cotton fields. It took him three years to finish his first painting, and soon he was able to hang his paintings around town. But no one bought them, at least not until the head of a local artists' club saw Horace's pictures, and brought his friend, the famous painter N.C. Wyeth to see them. Soon Horace achieved great fame, and his paintings were collected by people from all over the world.
Back matter includes a historical note with further biographical background on Pippin, notes from the author and illustrator, and suggestions for further reading, as well as recommended websites on Pippin and quotation sources. The end papers show a map of the United States indicating places where we can see Pippin's paintings, along with reproductions of some of his original works.
I was not familiar with the work of Horace Pippin before reading this work. Jen Bryant's text, while accessible for young children, will spark the imagination of older children and even adults to explore further the work and life of this African-American artist. Bryant and illustrator Melissa Sweet do a wonderful job of capturing not only the spirit of Pippin's artwork, but his determination and resolve to rise above the many difficulties he experienced in his life. Sweet, the author-illustrator of Balloons over Broadway and the illustrator of more than eighty other picture books, manages to evoke Pippin's use of color and composition in her own illustrations. The illustrations are created using watercolor, gouache, and collage, and incorporate quotations from Pippin as well as images. Sweet writes in her illustrator's note that "Lettering Pippin's quotes within the illustrations gave me a way to illuminate his simple and heartfelt approach to making art."
This is a terrific book to share for Black History Month or any time you would like an inspirational picture book biography to share with children or a class.
Amazon has selected A Splash of Red as one of its Picture Books of the Month for January.