A Splash of Red

Horace pippn.jpg

A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin

Written by: Jen Bryant

Illustrated by: Melissa Sweet

Synopsis: From the time he could say the word red, Horace loved to create the pictures that formed in his mind and then add a splash of red. Entering a magazine art contest and winning first place garnered him his first set of paints, brushes and color pencils. Horace’s love for art followed him throughout the years and during his service in WWI. Though his right arm was severely injured in the war, making it impossible for him to use it for art, this self-taught pioneer did the unthinkable.


Being self-taught and trusting

Listening to his heart and trusting his inborn abilities kept Horace driving towards his destination with authenticity.

I decided to write about Horace a few weeks ago after discovering the book at my local library. As serendipity would have it, I happened upon an exhibit at the California African American Arts Museum which featured other self-taught artists like Sam Doyle, Herbert Singleton, Nelle Mar Rowe; etc. I walked around looking at the art, admiring the fact that the artists were willing to trust that they were both teacher and student unto themselves and that alone was enough validation for them to trust the process and move forward. I then thought about myself and the hesitancy I sometimes feel when it comes to my own projects. Horace, for me, is a gental reminder of the innocent courage that comes with being a child. I can only imagine that he must have seen his creations through the eyes of his heart;most of us know well that "zone" we drop into during creation where time and space fall away. It took a few days for things to settle in, but I came away with the conclusion that it's okay to open up to myself by reconnecting with the "play" of my own work, trusting fully that everything is in perfect and divine order. If I am both the teacher and student to myself with spirit leading the way, then there must be something organic, something magical the universe is giving only to me so that I can give it to the world.

Intention and starting over

After his WWI injury disabled his right arm, Horace taught himself to draw again by using his left hand to stabilize and guide his right hand.

Seriously folks, I have to be completely honest here. I probably would have given up and spent the majority of my days trying to affirm my way out of despair. The fact that Horace had the insight and gumption to use his left hand to help his right hand draw again is genius and speaks to his sincere intention to create; not his sincere desire to be on Super Soul Sunday or his wild ambition to have the most Facebook friends. Horace had to create in order to breathe. His ingenuity taught me that if you really love something; really, really want something, then you have to just do it come hurricane or tornado. You have to be willing to start again, make steady progress-not grand leaps, crumble a few pages and take some contemplative walks just to get one sentence-one angle right. Be willing to pioneer even if people laugh. Fall, forget, and then begin again.

Not despising small beginnings and humility

After Horace taught himself to draw again using his left hand, he hung his paintings in a shoe-store window and asked five dollars for each piece. People admired the art but no one bought it. As life would have it…I won’t give the miraculous ending away, you’ll have to get the book.

I believe that Horace would have gone on painting if noone had taken a second glance. Not in quiet desperation or frustration, but completely immersed in his passion. He didn’t have twitter or instagram, not that I have a problem with either, but it takes a certain amount of humility to hang art in a shoe-store window and sale it for five dollars when perhaps it is worth much more and deserveds to be seen by the world. It was ultimately his willingness to share in spite of, that lead to his happy ending. My major lesson here is to be willing to do what is mine/yours to do even if it only reaches the birds in the sky.

I hope you have been inspired enough to read Horace's story to your students or children. For more information on A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin, visit:




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