Monday, January 16, 2012

Turn Right at Mao, at the Met

"Modern and Contemporary Art?"
"Uh . . . sure," I replied to daughter, Katherine, and son-in-law, Andy's, suggestion of where to start exploring the Met.
Images of abstractions flashed through my mind - an eyeball here, a foot there, in Picasso-esk style.
Give me "Water Lilies" any day.
But it was one of those growth opportunities, "Broaden Your Horizons," "Learn Something New Every Day" kind of thing.  Plus, it meant more time with them.

As we walked through the galleries, I was polite to the Pollacks, pretended to understand the Picassos, and stood gazing at an oversized, slightly tilted, blue square with the most meaningful expression I could muster.  But it wasn't until I turned right at Warhol's massive "Mao" that I became enchanted.

It was a small room, just right for its small-framed occupants, ranging in smallness from a couple of inches to letter size.  I walked slowly from one to the next until a face stopped me.  A self-portrait, simply painted, unassuming, yet so personal, so authentic, that he could have been a lifelong, next-door neighbor.

             I read the artist's name.


From wall to wall I moved, until two more paintings, side by side, stopped me.  Their Grandma Moses style drew me into the scenes -- 

mis-matched chairs at quiet table, dressed up with freshly-picked wildflowers, proud

heads of children in shared bed, tucked in with quilted comfort, safe   

Who was Horace Pippin? 
What was his story?
I returned home and read.

Horace Pippin (1888-1946)
Self-taught African American painter
Grandson of slaves
Won his first box of crayons in a magazine drawing contest when he was 10.
Shot in the arm during WWI.
Used his "good" left arm to guide the injured right one as he painted.
The Met displayed his paintings for the first time in 1938.  
Died at age 58, leaving behind only 140 paintings.

As with Pippin's seemingly "primitive" paintings, the basic facts of his life merely hint at the deeper, more complex life beneath.  

A life I will explore; art I will savor.

"Modern and Contemporary Art?"  
Thanks, Katherine and Andy, for the invitation and the company.

Horace Pippin - National Gallery of Art (
Horace Pippin - (
Horace Pippin - Wikipedia (


  1. I missed these when I explored this exhibit. I'll have to check it out this week. Thanks for the background info on this artist. Amazing!

    1. The room is easy to miss because it's tucked over to one side, but there are many wonderful pieces, just smaller than the huge ones in the surrounding rooms. Totally worthwhile. Have fun!

  2. What an interesting story. You've piqued my interest in Mr. Pippin.

  3. I'm glad. He's certainly worth knowing more about!


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