High Museum of art co-organizes nationally touring exhibition surveying the art of David Driskell. Premiering this spring, the exhibition features powerful paintings and works on paper spanning seven decades of his illustrious career. 

David Driskell (1931-2020) was one of the most revered American artists of his generation, recognized for his painting and printmaking practices, often characterized by his use of collage, which combined the Black American experience with his keen observations of the American landscape and the imagery and aesthetic innovations of the African diaspora. To celebrate the breadth of his work, the High Museum of Art and Portland Museum of Art, Maine, have organized “David Driskell: Icons of Nature and History,” bringing approximately 60 artworks together to present highlights of his career. The exhibition is also the first major survey of Driskell’s work since his death in April 2020 at age 88. It will debut at the High Feb. 6-May 9, 2021 and travel to the Portland Museum of Art (June 19-Sept. 12, 2021) and The Phillips Collection (Oct. 6, 2021-Jan. 9, 2022). 

A Georgia native, Driskell graduated from Howard University in 1955 and received a Master of Fine Arts from The Catholic University of America in 1962. In 1953, he attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine. A lifelong educator, Driskell honed his teaching repertoire at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) between 1955 and 1976, teaching at Talladega College, Howard University and Fisk University. From 1977 through 1998, he taught at the University of Maryland, College Park, which is now the home of the David C. Driskell Center, an exhibition space and research institute that houses Driskell’s archive. In addition to a growing collection of African American art, it serves as a study center for the history of African American art and art of the African diaspora. While Driskell built a distinguished career as a scholar, he simultaneously maintained an active and distinguished artistic practice, regularly presenting his work in both solo and group exhibitions at museums and galleries including the High, the Center for Maine Contemporary Art, The Phillips Collection, Tate Modern (London), DC Moore Gallery and Kunsthal KAde (Amsterdam).

The High has a long history of collaboration with Driskell, who in addition to his work as an artist was one of the world’s leading authorities on the history of African American art. In 1977, the High hosted Driskell’s landmark exhibition “Two Centuries of Black American Art.” In 2005, the Museum established the David C. Driskell Prize, the first national award to honor and celebrate contributions to the field of African American art, including distinctions for both artists and scholars. The most recent recipient is artist Jamal Cyrus, with past honorees including Amy Sherald, Naima J. Keith, Mark Bradford, Andrea Barnwell Brownlee, Rashid Johnson and Valerie Cassel Oliver. Funds raised through the prize’s annual dinner have supported the acquisition of 48 works by African American artists for the High’s collection. 

“Icons of Nature and History” is the first posthumous survey of Driskell’s work, spanning seven decades of his artistry, from the 1950s to the 2000s, with works drawn from museums, private collections and the artist’s estate. The exhibition includes key works from the High’s collection, including one of Driskell’s self-portraits. In addition, the exhibition follows the course of his career, from Howard University and the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture to Talladega College and his studio in Falmouth, Maine, and features recurring motifs such as still lifes, pine trees, aspects of the natural world, African masks, and iconographies drawn from his Christian and Southern roots and the Black experience. Works in the exhibition, including paintings, drawings and prints, will reveal Driskell’s mastery of materials and his indefatigable spirit of invention, which led to the development of a hybrid technique he called “collage-painting.”

“David Driskell: Icons of Nature and History” will be presented Feb. 6-May 9, 2021 on the second level of the High’s Anne Cox Chambers Wing.