Creative Spirit. The Art of David C. Driskell

Debra Ambush

Creative Spirit, The Art of David C. Driskell, with essays by Floyd Coleman,  Adrienne L. Childs and  Julie L. McGee.  Published by the David C. Driskell Center for the Study of the Visual Arts and Culture of African Americans and the African Diaspora at the University of Maryland, College Park.

David Driskell Two Pines #2, 1964, oil on canvas. 48 X 36.  High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA David Driskell Memories of a Distant Past, 1975, egg tempera, gouache, and collage on paper, 21 1/2 x 16 Courtesy of the artist and D.C. Moore Gallery, New York

In what is essentially a retrospective examination of 60 works created between 1950 and 2010, this publication shows the confluence of historical research and personal memory within the creative spirit of the celebrated artist and art historian,  DavidC. Driskell.  The essays seek out the existential flashpoints for the intersections that define his remarkable  career. 

In the introductory essay by Howard University Professor Emeritus Floyd Coleman, identity, validity, and cultural relevancy are three concerns central to the expressive aesthetic Driskell engages throughout his artistic career.   Independent scholar Adrienne  Childs suggests that Driskell’s  artistic production might be seen as synthesis of personal memoir and decorative aesthetic,  in his journey to recover the creative energy of his mother.  Julie McGee, curator of African American art and associate professor of black American studies at the University of Maryland, explores the interface of the physicality of Driskell’s studio practice and the resonance of a spiritual life force.

Literary critic Toni Morrison’s writings about what she calls the “site of memory”  inspires one to think about this catalogue as a sort of visual archaeology of the material culture that informed the artist’s life,  including the artifacts of his rural North Carolina childhood.   Consider Julie McGee sees Driskell’s egg tempera, gouche and collage on paper, Memories of a Distant Past, as a tribute to his paternal grandparents, originally from the Georgia Sea islands, and as a  reference to African Dan masks, he had not yet seen.

David Driskell I Have Always Been an Outsider, 1987, mixed media assemblage, 35 x 15 1/2 x 3 ¼.  Collection of the artist.

There are interesting parallels in this visual archaeology.  Driskell’s proclivity to use of objects as a sort of West African minkisi (bundles or caches containing  items such as pebbles,  roots, pieces of iron, metal and ivory, wooden rings, and crab claws wrapped in leaves or cloth)  have a parallel in his  depiction of chairs and bottles, natural wood material.   For example, in I’ve Always Been an Outsider. the mixed media assemblage including a broken folding chair, polychromed wood, tin, and other collage fragments summon protection and recall  folk spiritual realms.

The co-existence of genius in both a visual arts practice and in art historical scholarship defines Driskell’s body of work.  Floyd Coleman says that Driskell’s aesthetic interests and intentions are linked with a late modern Diasporic heritage that has influenced cultural production around the world.   The book shows how David Driskell’s body of work is a transitional bridge into contemporary African American and African Diasporan art.  We are left with a refreshing way in which to consider these connections and the unrelenting desire to be seen on one’s own terms.

Debra Ambush, Ph.D., is an adjunct art education professor at the Corcoran College of Art and Design.