Rose Piper’s style shifted throughout her career, yet the root of her artwork stems from her abstract style. She explores themes of African American identity and blacks’ lives in the inner–cities. She once said, “For many of the disadvantaged today there is little or no belief in the promise of a better life. For many, escape to ‘freedom’ or ‘paradise’ is drugs, short term riches, and violence.” Through her paintings, Rose Piper depicts both the sadness and distress that African Americans faced as they moved North to the industrial cities; however, the content does not stop there. Piper’s goal is to express the contradictory emotions that the migrating blacks experienced: sadness from leaving their homes combined with hope for what the future might hold. Her African American characters demonstrate courage, faith, and optimism that take a positive spin on situations of such struggle.
Slow Down Freight Train
oil on canvas (1946)
Slow Down Freight Train depicts a migrating African American that is emotionally connected to his homeland surroundings. An abstract color palette spawning shades of green unite the man’s face with the neighboring hills and the sky. The green hills appear comforting and symbolize the community and family that will be left behind as the train pulls the man from his homeland. In contrast to the more subtle monochromatic landscape color scheme, the man’s red shirt stands out. The color red speaks to the man’s strength and perseverance in leaving his existing life behind, despite his crouched down position within the train car. The depiction of light within the scene is consistent with Piper’s message that finds hope even within a challenging situation. The diagonal of light conceals most of the background inside and outside of the train car in shade, but the man’s upturned face and one leg lie within the rays of light, signifying hope for the future. Although hesitant, the man’s character demonstrate bravery, willpower and the ability to acknowledge the hardships that life brings while accepting the promise the future holds. Therefore, Rose Piper successfully communicates themes of both despair and hope within Slow Down Freight Train.
oil on canvas (1948)
This hardworking African American figure sadly hangs his head in his arm as he sits among the shadows. The scene suggests a factory setting and the ensuing working conditions that the blacks that migrated to the North faced. The worn out laborer is struggling to remain happy for he misses his homeland and way of life in the South. Feelings of desolation and despair likely also stem from neglect and isolation from the whites. The generally cool color palette reflects these sentiments of exhaustion, yearning and sadness. Piper captures the struggle of the migrated Africans and the melancholy they experienced, but once again she finds a way to express hope and optimism. The cool color palette is speckled with shades of bright yellow and white that brings faith to the picture. A young girl in the background dressed in yellow symbolizes what the future could hold.