New York

Horace Pippin

Terry Dintenfass Gallery

Horace Pippin lived from 1888 to 1946. He once wrote, “My opinion of art is that a man should have love for it, because my idea is that he paints from his heart and mind. To me it seems impossible for another to teach one of Art.”

Wounded in the First World War, he taught himself to paint by gripping the brush in his paralyzed right hand and guiding it with his left functional one. His mind, heart and hand designed and executed paintings with what seems to have been an inviolable concentration upon the image fixed in his mind. His works manifest a sure physicality by means of highly impastoed short brushstrokes of careful design and complex, high coloration.

Pippin, a black man from Chester County, Pennsylvania, has generally been characterized as a primitive, regional painter. Although recognized to have been an original talent, his images were relegated to the narrowing categorization of primitivism because he remained unconcerned with practices and interests of European artists and even of his American contemporaries. Even when, in 1940, he was able to study art, invited to attend lectures at the Barnes Foundation (where for several weeks viewed the paintings of the Old Masters, of Cézanne, Picasso, Renoir, and Matisse), he did not find much interest even in great works of the modern tradition.

His paintings depict houses, trees and a road in snow; the rutted devastation of the French countryside and war-wrecked homes; fruits on a tabletop of warped wood; a squirrel hunter whose straightforward vertical patterning and coloration transform him into one with the wooded grove; stridently colored, stark portraits whose angular components of figuration describe a remarkable understanding not merely of space perceived, but of the body as a construction of bones in the transient livingtime of flesh cover. And there are allegories of a religious nature, for Pippin was a religious man. There is a burnt wood painting, The Whipping, whose prominent figure whips a man tied to a post on a foreground field of red that flows away as a road; there is an architecturally massed Christ Before Pilate, where furious Romans and Jews seem metamorphosed into the stone of columns. In John Brown Going To His Hanging the abolitionist rides atop a wagon transmuted in a pattern of black with his captors, the black-barred windows of a foreground building, the black defoliated trees and, below, the backs of somber-colored, coated figures whose circular hats seem to squash their posture and sever the fore from the middle-ground.

Pippin’s art represents a primitivism of sorts not through technical limitations but by a mythic immensity whose archeology recalls and renews history as it sees the forms imbued with the light of belief. This is a transfiguring primitivism that the devout imagination prescribes to the objects of its devotion.

In the workman’s eyes of Pippin, a man whose body was not mere housing for the brain, there is, finally, a respect for the physical reality of what he sees. Even in the allegorical paintings, the attitude of deriving a succinct visual parallel of symbolic potency remains candid, concrete and excited, without reference to the categorical fashions of schools or movements, or to perplexed manifestos. Pippin’s works seem to blaze out from a morally outraged mind and heart that would change all, as in the “Holy Mountain” series, but that also encompass a vision of peace. There is no doubt of his ability to portray his vision.

Steven Madoff