A New Survey of David Driskell, Artist and Scholar of African American Art, Comes to Atlanta

Spirituality, culture and memory come together in collages created by the esteemed curator

Woman With Flowers oil and collage on canvas
Woman With Flowers, oil and collage on canvas, 1972. A celebration of black beauty, the work alludes to both African sculpture and African American quilt making. Art Bridges, Bentonville, AR, AB.2018.3 ©Estate of David C. Driskell. Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, New York

As a leading scholar and curator of African American art, David Driskell, who died of Covid-19 last April at 88, worked to carve a place in the mainstream for generations of artists who, he said, “wanted to prove to a skeptical world that they were as good as anybody.” As an artist himself, Driskell created exuberant paintings and richly detailed collages steeped in black art history. In February, some 60 of his works will go on view in his first posthumous survey, at Atlanta’s High Museum of Art. Driskell’s seven-decade career stretched from the dawn of the civil rights movement to our current era of political polarization, and social justice themes, perhaps inevitably, run through his canvases. Still, says Julie McGee, the show’s guest curator, Driskell understood the importance of seeking the beautiful and divine despite chaos and strife. As he once put it, “art is a priestly calling...that shows us life can be so beautiful.”

A New Survey of David Driskell, Artist and Scholar of African American Art, Comes to Atlanta
City Quartet, 1953. University of Maryland. ©The Estate of David C. Driskell
A New Survey of David Driskell, Artist and Scholar of African American Art, Comes to Atlanta
Left, Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, 1972. (Tougaloo College Art Collections. Purchased by Tougaloo College with support from the NEA, 1973.084 ©Estate of David C. Driskell, courtesy of DC Moore Gallery, New York) Right, Two Pines #2, 1964. High Museum of Art, gift of David C. and Thelma G. Driskell, 2000.203 ©Estate of David C. Driskell, courtesy of DC Moore Gallery, New York
A New Survey of David Driskell, Artist and Scholar of African American Art, Comes to Atlanta
Homage to Romare, 1976. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment, 2017.3. Photo by Travis Fullerton. ©Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. ©Estate of David C. Driskell

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This article is a selection from the January/February issue of Smithsonian magazine