Wednesday, April 3, 2013

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

Author Jen Bryant and illustrator Melissa Sweet joined forces to create one of the best picture book bios I've read in a long, long time. All too often picture book bios leave me underwhelmed. They either are skimpy with the facts or too much information is crammed into 36 or so pages. A Splash of Red strikes just the right balance.

Bryant does a superb job of getting at the essence of Horace Pippin, a self-taught artist who, after being wounded during WWI, reinvented himself as a painter. Pippin's early love of art, his thrill of winning an art contest as a boy, and his determination not to give up are dramatically told in clean, vigorous prose. Particularly interesting is that nowhere in this bio does Bryant mention that Pippin is a black man. Although obvious from the art, Pippin's standing as an determined artist is what's stressed, not his color.

Sweet more than holds up her share of the partnership. Her illustrations mimic Pippin's folksy style, yet she brings her own sensibilities to the mix. Sweet includes Pippin's quotes into her artwork and she uses a combination of watercolor, gouache, and collage to obtain her effects.

The book's back matter includes a historical note that gives a straightforward account of Pippin's life. There's also a list of resources (and a website) for readers who'd like more information. Highly recommended.

A Splash of Color: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin
by Jen Bryant
illustrations by Melissa Sweet
Alfred A. Knopf, 40 pages
Published: 2013

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