Born and raised in the Bronx, New York, Rose Piper (1917-2005) studied at Hunter College, where she majored in art and minored in geometry. Post-1940 graduation, she began attending the Art Students League of New York from 1943-1946. During this time, poet Myron O’Higgins introduced her to Sterling Brown, who supported her growing love of blues music. In 1946, after receiving a Julius Rosenwald fellowship, Piper traveled through the American South studying blues music; her research inspiring a series of abstract, blues-themed paintings, often preferring to keep the human figure the center of her work. Read more
Her flat, geometric style was influenced by Picasso; her abstraction relating the stylization and exaggeration of the blues to convey strong, bold emotions. In the fall of 1947, her first solo exhibition titled Blues and Negro Folk Songs gained national attention. Her career peaked around the late 40s, additionally incorporating themes of contemporary problems related to women’s control over their bodies socially, racially, and sexually. Upon receiving a second Rosenwald grant in 1948, Piper this time chose to study in Paris rather than continue her research on the American South due to being stereotyped as a black painter that portrayed typical black themes. Upon her return from Paris, financial and family misfortunes caused her to put her painting career on hiatus. She sought financial security through first running a greeting card company and then working as a textile designer under a false alias, building a successful career in fashion over the next 30 years. She returned to painting in the 1980s, heavily influenced by her prior textile work. Her style has transitioned dramatically: instead of semi-abstracted figures met with melancholy color palettes, Piper’s artwork had become a combination of tremendous detail and bright acrylic resulting from the influence of painters of the Northern Renaissance. One element that had remained constant, however was that she still drew inspiration from African-American music and created art maintaining her political intent.