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A SPLASH OF RED by Jen Bryant Kirkus Star


The Life and Art of Horace Pippin

by Jen Bryant & illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Pub Date: Jan. 8th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-375-86712-5
Publisher: Knopf

This outstanding portrait of African-American artist Horace Pippin (1888-1946) allows Pippin’s work to shine—and his heart too.

“The colors are simple, such as brown, amber, yellow, black, white and green,” says pencil-lettered text on the front endpapers. These are Pippin’s own humble words. His art and life aren’t really simple at all, but here, they’re eminently accessible. On that spread, brush and pencil lie on overlapping off-white papers—lined, gridded, plain—decorated in pencil hatchings and a painted progression of hues between each primary color and its complement. From Pippin’s young childhood (working for pay to help his family; sketching with charcoal and paper scraps until he wins his first real art supplies in a contest), to his Army service in World War I, to the well-deserved fame that arrived only late in his life, he “couldn’t stop drawing.” When a military injury threatens Pippin’s painting ability, he tries wood burning—“[u]sing his good arm to move the hurt one”—and works his way back to painting. Sweet’s sophisticated mixed media (watercolor, gouache and collage), compositional framing, and both subdued and glowing colors pay homage to Pippin’s artistic style and sometimes re-create his pieces. Bryant’s text is understated, letting Pippin’s frequent quotations glimmer along with the art. Backmatter provides exceptional resources, including artwork locations.

A splash of vibrancy about a self-taught master.

(historical note, author’s note, illustrator’s note, references) (Picture book/biography. 5-11)