I Tell My Heart: The Art of Horace Pippin January-April 1994; Art Institute of Chicago, April-July 1994; Cincinnati Art Museum, July 28-October 9, 1994; Baltimore Museum of Art, October 26-December 31, 1994; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, February
I Tell My Heart: The Art of Horace Pippin
Jacob Lawrence, The Migration Series Birmingham Museum, July 10-September 4, 1994; St. Louis Art Museum, September 30-November 27, 1994; Museum of Modern Art, New York, January 12-April 11, 1995; High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia, April 25-June 25, 199
Jacob Lawrence, The Migration Series
Harriet and the Promised Land
Jacob Lawrence: Thirty Years of Prints (1963-1993), A Catalogue Raisonné Washington
The Emergence of the African-American Artist: Robert S. Duncanson, 1821-1872
African American music and literature have always been appreciated since they draw on rich traditions of song, dance, and folk stories. But the visual arts had no such clear heritage, and recognition of great black sculptors and painters has been spotty until recent years, when the growth of black studies spurred a busy new trade in the work of African Americans—shows, auctions, and even forgeries. One knows that a school of art has arrived when crooks find it remunerative to create fakes by Romare Bearden or Horace Pippin.1
Two exhibits currently on tour have been attracting crowds and creating an awareness of the great works created in the wake of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. The Migration Series by Jacob Lawrence began its travels last year at the Phillips Collection in Washington and will reach New York’s Museum of Modern Art in January of 1995, having visited Milwaukee, Portland, Birmingham, and Saint Louis in the interval. I Tell My Heart: The Art of Horace Pippin opened at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in January of 1994, with stops at Chicago, Cincinnati, and Baltimore on the way to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (opening February 1, 1995). New Yorkers will be able to see the exhibits in tandem—a useful exercise, since the two artists have often been contrasted as types of the “authentic” and “sophisticated” styles open to black artists.
I saw the Lawrence show in Washington and the Pippin in Chicago. The two make for endlessly suggestive comparisons and contrasts. The artists’ lives could not have been more different though their paintings have certain similarities. Both men preferred to work in small formats—tempera on hardboard for Lawrence, oil on fabric panels for Pippin. Both used expressive human figures, usually blacks, from American history and contemporary life. Their subjects were often the same—John Brown, Abraham Lincoln, black role models (Lawrence concentrated on Harriet Tubman, Pippin on Marian Anderson), black soldiers (in World War I for Pippin, World War II for Lawrence).
But these similarities are superficial. The core of each man’s art was distant from the other’s. Pippin, born earlier, came late to art and had essentially no formal training. Lawrence was precocious and had skilled instruction from the age of fifteen. He was at work on his brilliant series of forty-one panels devoted to the life of Toussaint L’Ouverture in 1937, when he was barely twenty years old. In that year, Pippin, his elder by thirty years, was being given his first small public exhibition (sponsored by Andrew Wyeth, among others). Pippin, disabled in the First World War, had worked in isolation outside Philadelphia, while the teen-age Lawrence moved in a buzz of artists’ talk and activity in post-Renaissance Harlem. His first teacher was Charles H. Alston, whose house at 306 West 141st Street (known lovingly as “306”) was a salon for black artists, writers, and performers in the 1930s.
The differences between Lawrence and Pippin are apparent even when they seem to be closest…
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