Biography: David C. Driskell was raised in North Carolina and enrolled at Howard University in Washington, D.C. in 1950. His studies continued at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine, and he obtained a Master of Fine Arts degree from Catholic University.
Driskell found his initial impact on the field was in the classroom, and his first teaching position was held at Talladega College in Alabama. He returned to Howard University in 1962 and spent four years there during the height of early civil rights activities, lecturing on art and art history. In 1966, he replaced the retiring Aaron Douglas (1899–1979) at Fisk University in Nashville where he expanded the art department and began the Afro-American series. This nine-year-long program of exhibitions by visiting artists included Jacob Lawrence (1917–2000), Alma Thomas (1891–1978), and Palmer C. Hayden (1893–1973). At the nation’s bicentennial, Driskell curated Two Centuries of Black American Art, the groundbreaking survey at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art that highlighted the exclusion of African American artists from the art historical canon. In 1977, he took an appointment at the University of Maryland, and on his retirement in 1998, The David C. Driskell Center for the Study of African Diaspora was founded there to celebrate his commitment to the field.
Influenced by his rural upbringing and the religious teachings of his Baptist minister father, Driskell’s paintings and works on paper combine powerful figurative imagery with a vibrant palette. Philosopher and Howard University professor Alain LeRoy Locke (1885–1954) encouraged him to look to Africa for source imagery and inspiration, and the artist visited the continent for the first time in 1969. Like many of his contemporaries, Driskell was also influenced by Cubism, the work of Paul Cézanne (1839–1906), and color of Henri Matisse (1869–1954). These formal qualities, combined with Driskell’s experimentations in print-making and collage, create an oeuvre imbued with a celebration of nature, spirituality, and humanity.