David C. Driskell: Icons of Nature and History

Portland Museum of Art | June 19 – September 12, 2021

Born in Eatonton, Georgia, David Driskell (1931–2020) was a revered American artist whose work inspired generations of artists and audiences alike. Icons of Nature and History reveals the artist’s aesthetic inheritances from home, family, the South, and his formative education—at Howard University, Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture, and the Catholic University of America—as well as the influence of his sojourns to Europe, Africa, and South America. His artistic evolution is marked by distinctive eras, experiences, and experiments with media. What remains steadfast in his paintings and collages is a commitment to a symbolic form that elevates the mind and the spirit above that which exists in the physical world: these are Driskell’s icons.

Spanning seven decades, this survey of Driskell’s art moves the center of critical art history to Driskell’s arenas: Washington, DC; Talladega, Alabama; Nashville, Tennessee; Hyattsville, Maryland; and Falmouth, Maine. In doing so, it invites us to see American art more comprehensively and to appreciate the contributions of historically Black colleges and universities to this canon. Artists have the vision to see beyond the ordinary, Driskell tells us. Among the many gifts he bequeaths to us is the delight of seeing the world through his eyes, and it is a journey of immeasurable beauty and grace.

David C. Driskell served as Indigo Arts Alliance’s inaugural elder advisor, mentor, and friend. His legacy was honored through Indigo’s Black Seed Studio Artist-In-Residence and David C. Driskell Fellowship. A foundational aspect of Indigo Arts Alliance’s mission was to amplify and empower Black and Brown artists who enriched the local community. Click here for more information about Black Seed Studio.


Driskell’s Legacy and the Land: Recontextualizing Environmental Justice

July 28, 2021 at the Portland Museum of Art (Bernard Osher Foundation Auditorium) – In this special collaborative event between Indigo Arts Alliance and the Portland Museum of Art, David Driskell’s love for the natural world was honored through facilitated discussions between environmental activists, farmers, scholars, and artists. Panelists representing Maine’s African Diaspora discussed the importance of understanding Black people’s relationship to the land, past, present, and future. This started with re-contextualizing histories and exploring the resurgence of younger generations taking up the cause to correct the false narratives that had obscured Black people’s experiences with the environment and environmental activism.

Panelists included Samaa Abdurraqib (Maine Humanities Council), Amara Ifeji, Dawud Ummah, Cheryl Townsend Gilkes (Colby College), and Daniel Minter (Indigo Arts Alliance).

Photography courtesy of the Portland Museum of Art

In The News

Portland Museum of Art celebrates David Driskell as a painter and a person

Portland Museum of Art celebrates David Driskell as a painter and a person “In planning long before he died, the exhibition honors Driskell’s life and puts his painting career in context with his times. Portland Museum of Art communications director Graeme Kennedy characterized “Icons of Nature and History” as a “landmark moment in American art” because it focuses on Driskell’s accomplishments as a painter.” – The Portland Press Herald