Horace Pippin has been hailed as one of the greatest African-American primitive painters in history. Pippin never took art lessons and felt that the art of painting could not be taught.
Pippin was born in poverty in Chester, Pennsylvania. He began drawing at a very early age. He would often wander away to racetracks with his pad in his hand. At the track, he would draw pictures of the horses and their riders. As a young boy, he moved to Goshen, New York with his parents.
His formal education did not go any further than grammar school and shortly after, he began a series of jobs. He worked as a hotel porter, molder, and a junk dealer. However, his passion for painting was so strong that he often searched for jobs in warehouses where the paint was stored. He just wanted to touch the paint and study it.
In 1917, he went into the army and served overseas until he was severely wounded. He received the Croix de Guerre and the Purple Heart. He was later discharged in 1918. When Pippin returned to the United States, he married and settled down in Westchester, New York. Although he was now disabled, he still had the desire to paint more than ever. But, his injury prevented him from raising his arm above his shoulder. However, that did not deter him from trying.
Pippin’s first efforts at painting required him to put a wooden panel in his lap, draw his outlines with a hot poker and then apply the house paint he used for oils. It was in 1931 when Pippin did his first picture which was labeled “The End of the War; Starting Home.” Two other paintings followed, “Shell Holes,” and “Champagne Sector,” which received high praise. He later gave a one-man show at the Westchester Community Art Center in 1937. By 1938, he had developed to the point where is paintings were being exhibited in the Museum of Modern Art.