All too often, those who teach us the most about our culture and art are the least recognized. Historian, author and artist David Driskell is one of America’s foremost experts in African-American art and has produced numerous volumes on our art and its meaning. An artist in his own right, his work is being honored in an exhibition now on display at the DC Moore Gallery entitled, “David Driskell Creative Spirit: Five Decades.”
Few living artists or historians have played a large enough role in helping us understand ourselves to have the honor of having a research institute named after them while they are still alive, but Driskell was honored in exactly this way by the University of Maryland, where he taught for several decades.
Born in 1931 in Georgia to sharecroppers, Driskell attended Howard University and went on to study and research around the world.
In 1976, he curated the groundbreaking exhibition “Two Centuries of Black American Art: 1750-1950” at the Los Angeles Country Museum of Art, a show that is seen by many as forming the foundation of contemporary African-American art history. His contribution is so great that in the year 2000, President Bill Clinton awarded him the National Humanities Medal.
While his contributions to our understanding of Black art in America are undisputed, the art he has created over the last six decades has perhaps been less honored. The current exhibition is just one step toward changing that.
While his artwork very much references the African-American experience, it also is very modernist in style and uses a great deal of abstraction to create a rich visual experience.
“I try to pattern my art with certain aspects of African and African-American iconography,” Driskell said in a press release, “in particular with African textiles, with costumes-especially with the Egungun costume, where the Yoruba dancers wear large costumes with strips of quilted cloth.”
Driskell’s eyes have seen the full gamut of the American experience, from the Jim Crow South to the Black expatriate experience to a Black president, and his art reflects those changes and the nuances between them.
“David Driskell Creative Spirit: Five Decades” is on display at the DC Moore Gallery, located at 535 W. 22nd St., until Feb. 4. For more information, call (212) 247-2111.