David Driskell

American artist

David C. Driskell (1931 – 2020) was a legendary African American artist and art historian. As an artist, scholar, and curator, he made substantial contributions to these fields that have changed the way we think about American art. His paintings and collages unite a strong modernist impulse with his personal vision and memory.

As explained by art critic John Yau, “Driskell never tried to fit in or accommodate his work to prevailing, white, avant-garde styles…Rather, he absorbed aspects of various styles and, in the cauldron of his art practice, welded them to his personal and cultural history.” Driskell transformed iconic African art forms into honorific personal visions – flattened, decorated, and resurfaced in his signature style, color, and calligraphy – and melded these forms with Modernist aesthetics and the tradition of Western art.

Driskell received his BA in Fine Art from Howard University (1955) and MFA from Catholic University (1962), both in Washington, D.C. He attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Madison, Maine, in 1953, with which he has retained a lifelong relationship, serving as visiting faculty, lecturer, and board member.

Driskell’s pioneering scholarship underpins the current field of African American art history. Among his most influential curatorial contributions is the exhibition and catalogue for the groundbreaking Two Centuries of Black American Art, which opened in 1976 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and traveled to museums across the country. In 1977, after having taught at Talladega College, Howard University, and Fisk University, Driskell joined the Department of Art at the University of Maryland where he remained until his retirement in 1998. The University of Maryland opened The David C. Driskell Center for the Study of the Visual Arts and Culture of African Americans and the African Diaspora in 2001 to celebrate his legacy as an artist and art historian.

In 1993, Driskell was honored with an award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In December 2000, Driskell received the National Humanities Medal. In 2005, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta established the David C. Driskell Prize, the first national award to honor and celebrate contributions to the field of African American art by a scholar or artist.

Driskell’s works have been featured in numerous solo and group exhibitions in galleries and museums throughout the United States, most recently as the subject of the career survey David Driskell: Icons of Nature and History (2021 – 2022) at the High Museum of Art, GA, which traveled to the Portland Museum of Art, ME, the Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C., and the Cincinnati Art Museum, OH. Other solo exhibitions include David Driskell: Renewal and Reform (2017) at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art, ME, and Creative Spirit: The Art of David C. Driskell (2011) at the David C. Driskell Center at the University of Maryland, College Park, MD. Group exhibitions include, Black American Portraits (2021 – 2022) at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Afro-Atlantic Stories (2018), which originated at the Sao Paulo Museum of Art and traveled (2021 – 2024) to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA, and the Dallas Museum of Art, TX; Tell Me Your Story (2020) at Kunsthal KAdE in Amersfoort, the Netherlands; and Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power (2018-2019) at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, NY.

His works can be found in collections throughout the country, including the Baltimore Museum of Art, MD; Birmingham Museum of Art, AL; Bowdoin College Museum, ME; Colby College Museum, ME; Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, AR; High Museum of Art, GA; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, D.C. Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, PA; Portland Museum of Art, ME; The Studio Museum in Harlem, NY; and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, VA, among others.

Inner Power By: Relato Corto

Pollux was an ordinary human who lived in the time of the giant creators. His monotonous life revolved around honing his talents, even going to the extreme of spending months away from others. He never expected that life would open the doors to another dimension.

Spiritual journeys have been very important to Pollux. He’d discarded many philosophical beliefs that have taken him nowhere. He became tired of the lack of results, so he decided to take the path of sacrifice. Something good must come from this, he thought

After years of leaving behind the pleasures of life, Pollux realized that his path would require deceit. Of course… that would have been what he told a psychologist if was ever interviewed. Pollux decided to start looking for signs and following them as if they were ordered by a higher power, although he did not know if a message should be taken as positive or negative. Life taught him to follow the signs that have led him to circumstances that aligned with his emotions.

Years of searching for signs showed him a way to discover them faster as if a language had been created between him and his higher self. Following the messages of the creator of nature gave Pollux a sense of accomplishment that he never thought possible. Is it possible that his discovery is real? In the blink of an eye, following the messages left for him changed his life. It was… almost impossible.

On a day like today, Pollux walked out of his tent without haste. He innocently remembered an anecdote that he heard many years ago and decided to look for insects inside his boots. Taking the first one and shaking it to release the imaginary insect, he noticed that it was empty. Pollux took the other boot to perform an act that he sometimes decides to do. Shaking the boot he felt a vibration that surprised him. What is it? he thought, stretching out his arm.

Pollux held the boot as far from his body as possible, while he considered the situation. The insect stopped buzzing. There was no doubt that something was inside. Shaking the boot again, trying to free the insect, Pollux saw a two-inch-wide black wasp with yellow legs fall to the ground.

The insect was known as the devil’s horse by Pollux. This was how he was taught to call it since the first time he saw one. Pollux couldn’t contain his need to see a sign in everything—only this time it was… different. This sign did not come with the sweet angelic voice that Pollox is now used to hearing.

The devil is a sore loser.

That was the only explanation. If following the signs, left by God as breadcrumbs, were the right path, then the devil must be tired of his failed plots. That was the only explanation. The devil’s horse on his boot was a declaration of war. At least that’s what Pollux decided to believe.

As the days passed and the traps became more difficult to avoid. Pollux realized that it was impossible to experience Heaven on Earth without serving the true God. What other alternative did he have?

Ignoring the signs of a distant God who can barely be felt. That idea was no longer an option for Pollux. He preferred to train his body for the traps that the devil had prepared for him.

Day after day he faced the same obstacles in different and surprising ways. It was as if the world was trying to stop him.

At that time, the giant creators still walked through the fuchsia meadows of their crops. They were in charge of supplying all the needs so that their creations could dedicate their time to the joy of life. In the same way that God does with his creations. It was a wonderful world in which creations lived in harmony. Of course, the harmony of the wilderness has always had its dangers.

Freedom was shared between the creations of the giants and God. The kingdoms were in a constant peaceful war. Neither had the power to physically interfere with the land; there was no such thing as private property.

For humans, the world was not so dangerous. They enjoyed the teachings of the creators, while the smaller creations fed and protected them. The giants decided to make their creations nomadic. Their purpose was simply to grow and show God that they could be part of the delicate balance.

Pollux remembered the trap—the sting of a devil’s horse could have been fatal. His path had led him into the depths of the jungle. Animals constantly stalked the territory—a wound that immobilized you for a couple of hours is fatal in this land.

Of course, that kind of problem was irrelevant to him. Pollux was under the protection of the creators. Various species of pets lived around humans, they took care of everything, even finding insects inside boots.

The chances for one of God’s creations to approach Pollux were slim. On the other hand, the demons that inhabit nature were a common topic of conversation among humans. Those creatures are different from others. Energetic beings who feed by transforming their environment. The influences of a demon could destroy nature.

The human camps were enough to protect nature from demons. That was important to the giant creators. They decided to protect God’s creation to show their appreciation for the knowledge they have gained over the years. The giants knew that without nature knowledge would simply disappear, thus protecting knowledge became the most important task.

Pollux looked up to see an insect fly up and disappear behind the jungle leaves. Getting rid of this demon has become an arduous task, he thought.

After finishing equipping his armor, Pollux walked away from the camp. His work in the jungle had been a great help. A previously devastated area now looks beautiful. Pollux used his time to train on a hill. That was all that mattered. This was how he helped the deities of the earth.

The energy manipulation ability that Pollux had developed allowed him to see the electromagnetic fields that revolve around all things. He could see the places where the energy of the deities was weak.

On that morning, while training with his sword, he saw something he had never seen before.

A black-colored electromagnetic field appeared a few steps away from him. Pollux took a step back to search for the source of this energy—electromagnetic fields only exist around objects. How is this possible? he wondered. Pollux took another step backward when he noticed the black cloud growing.

“State your purpose,” Pollux demanded, without an answer.

The cloud grew faster and began to move like a black liquid coming out of its center while hovering a few feet above the ground.

Realizing the possibility of danger, Pollux took yet another step back. What’s that?

The energy grew and thickened until it took shape. Pollux watched in amazement as the electromagnetic field lost its transparency—now he could see a manifestation of the field in the physical realm. The black liquid began to take the shape of a round body with two large arms. The floating liquid fell, as a large rock, on the ground.

Pollux took a step back when he saw the demon take shape. The creature rose defiantly to its feet, its hand resting on a sheathed sword. Pollux could feel the demon’s gaze.

The red-skinned creature roared as it drew its flaming-bladed sword.

Pollux took a deep breath as he held his sword in front of him. I’m ready for anything.

The creature’s claws finished taking shape, then the spikes of its back looked solid as metal.

Pollux noticed that the creature was becoming increasingly agitated. What are you going to do?

The demon continued to look directly into Pollux’s eyes. Something was about to happen.

The deities of the area also noticed the situation. All of them carefully analyzed the creature that appeared out of nowhere—the physical manifestation of a demon. They all seemed to agree that this was the dark energy that haunts nature.

Pollux’s heart was pounding. His eyes focused on the demon’s next move. The creature jumped. Pollux took a big breath—the surrounding deities lent their energy to him—somehow, he managed to deflect the demon’s attack with his sword.

Pollux accepted the battle and allowed his instincts to lead him to destroy his opponent.

Lorraine O’Grady

American artist

Lorraine O’Grady is a conceptual artist and cultural critic whose work over four decades has employed the diptych, or at least the diptych idea, as its primary form. While she has consistently addressed issues of diaspora, hybridity and black female subjectivity and has emphasized the formative roles these have played in the history of modernism, O’Grady also uses the diptych’s “both/and thinking” to frame her themes as symptoms of a larger problematic, that of the divisive and hierarchical either/or categories underpinning Western philosophy. In O’Grady’s works across various genres including text, photo-installation, video and performance, multiple emotions and ideas coexist. Personal and aesthetic attitudes often considered contradictory, such as anger and joy or classicism and surrealism, are not distinguished. Even technical means seem governed by both chance and obsessive control so as to express political argument and unapologetic beauty simultaneously. And across the whole, essays and images interpenetrate. While O’Grady’s diptychs are sometimes explicit, with two images side by side, at other times they are implicit, as when two types of hair—silk and tumbleweed, videotaped on the same scalp at different hours of the same day—alternate and interact to create permeating worlds. The goal of her diptychs is not to bring about a mythic “reconciliation of opposites,” but rather to enable or even force a conversation between dissimilars long enough to induce familiarity. For O’Grady, the diptych helps to image the kind of “both/and” or “miscegenated” thinking that may be needed to counter and destabilize the West’s either/or binary of “winners or losers,” one that is continuously birthing supremacies, from the intimate to the political, of which white supremacy may be only the most all-inclusive.

An early adopter of digital technology, O’Grady has also created a website, lorraineogrady.com, which is considered a model of the online abbreviated-archive, and her paper archive is in the collection of the Wellesley College Library. Among O’Grady’s writings, the 1992/94 long-form essay “Olympia’s Maid: Reclaiming Black Female Subjectivity” has proved an enduring contribution to the fields of art history and intersectional feminism and is now considered canonical. O’Grady’s art works have been acquired by, among other institutions, the Art Institute of Chicago. IL; Museum of Modern Art, NY; Tate Modern, London, UK; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, NY.

Gwendolyn Knight

American artist

Gwendolyn Clarine Knight preferred creating figural compositions rather than the Abstract Expressionist paintings that other artists of her generation embraced. Her vibrant paintings, primarily portraits and images of dancing figures, express her personal response to life experiences and reveal an abiding interest in her West African heritage. Her experimentation with improvisation and movement is best captured in her “quick, lyrical sketches rendered as etchings and monoprints” that she created at the end of her career.

Born in Bridgetown, Barbados, Knight was seven years old when she moved with family friends to St. Louis, Missouri, following the unexpected death of her father. She spent the majority of her youth, however, in Harlem. An avid reader and dance, theatre, and opera enthusiast, Knight immersed herself in the Harlem Renaissance during her teen years. She briefly attended Howard University in Washington, DC, where she studied with Loïs Mailou Jones and James Lesesne Wells. Financial hardship brought on by the Great Depression compelled Knight to leave college after her second year and return to Harlem. There, she studied painting and sculpture with Augusta Savage and—thanks to Savage’s recommendation—joined the Works Progress Administration’s mural project. Savage also introduced the young artist to writers and activists of the Harlem Renaissance, including Romare BeardenAaron DouglasCharles Alston, and Alain Locke. As part of her WPA duties, Knight assisted Alston with a mural for the children’s ward at Harlem Hospital. It was in Alston’s studio that Knight met fellow artist Jacob Lawrence, whom she married in 1941.

Beyond their marital union, Knight and Lawrence enjoyed a collaborative relationship in which they inspired each other artistically. While both painters’ work incorporated the figural image, Knight’s method was more spontaneous and her subject matter more personal. Whereas Lawrence created narrative paintings highlighting African American history and the black experience, Knight painted oil portraits of friends and poetic studies of dancers, as well as watercolor and gouache landscapes. Her paintings have been viewed by some critics as companion pieces to those created by Lawrence, opinions that gave Knight seemingly little pause. “It wasn’t necessary for me to have acclaim,” Knight said in a 1988 interview. “I just knew that I wanted to do it [paint], so I did it whenever I could.”

Throughout the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, Knight became an itinerant artist of sorts, accompanying her husband as he pursued new opportunities. Shortly after their wedding, the couple moved to New Orleans for a brief period while Lawrence completed work for a grant. Knight’s “time in the South had a strong impact; she loved its sultriness, which reminded her of Barbados.” The summer of 1946 was spent at Black Mountain College near Asheville, North Carolina. The following decade found her in New York studying dance with members of Martha Graham’s company, and, in 1964, she and Lawrence traveled to Nigeria. This last sojourn undoubtedly appealed to Knight’s curiosity regarding her African roots. Finally, in 1971, Lawrence was offered a teaching position at the University of Washington School of Art, and the couple settled in Seattle. Five years later, the Seattle Art Museum hosted Knight’s first solo show. Various other exhibitions in New York, Georgia, Oregon, and Washington, DC, followed in the 1970s. At the same time, institutions such as Hampton University, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and the Museum of Modern Art began collecting her work.

In 2000, Lawrence and Knight established a charitable foundation which supports struggling artists as well as children’s programs. Knight stopped creating art after her husband’s death and, instead, diverted her energy toward advancing the foundation’s philanthropic efforts.

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