Art Gallery Review

Will Gillette '22

Who is David Driscoll? Recently I visited the Phillips Collection in DC, where there was a special exhibition called “David Driscoll: Icons of Nature in History.” Through this special curation, we get a never-before-seen glimpse into the life of one of the most prominent African-American artists of the 20th century.


Living in the greater DC area my whole life, I’m ashamed I can’t really name any DC artists until I discovered David Driscoll. Driscoll, while being born in North Carolina, has spent a lot of time in Washington DC. He attended Howard University and actually taught there for a brief period of time. He cites Washington DC for having a profound influence on his creative process as he met many colleagues and friends, especially while visiting the Phillips Collection himself. Upon entering the exhibit and reading a brief introduction on Driscoll, I could tell that I would be inspired by his creative genius.


In terms of curation, each room has a common theme that, while separated, connects the important parts of Driscoll's mind. One of my favorite rooms focused on Driscoll's love for Pine Trees. Driscoll is highly influenced by nature, and the Pine Tree serves as a metaphor for his life. It’s strong, beautiful, and green all year long, which is similar to Driscoll's philosophy of staying positive as often as he can. These very abstract and colorful takes on nature and pine trees are beautiful; the color and fluid shapes turns Nature into a more playful state, yet still keeps the same serious feel of traditional landscape paintings. I couldn't help but feel mesmerized by Driscoll's brush strokes as they are so simplistic at first glance, but upon further exploration there are so many more layers and hidden details.


Moving on from this gallery to others, I was really moved by how personal he was in his artwork. The selection of themes that have been impactful on Driscoll’s life- such as Christianity, his African roots- displayed an unprecedented amount of personal emotion I have seen in art. I learned so much about Driscoll just through his paintings that I felt like I left having a personal connection with him. As a white male in the 21st century, I can't relate to a lot of the trials and tribulations Driscoll and many African-American artists faced throughout their career. But through his works such as “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “Bahian Lace” containing direct inspiration from African-American folk songs and traditional African artwork respectively, I can familiarize myself more with his culture and where he comes from. In turn, I can become more self-aware of my own position in life and knowledgeable about African art and artists. 


In conclusion, I thought this was an excellent curated exhibit. I entered with barely recognizing the name David Driscoll, to leave having him as one of my favorite artists. Not only was his art beautiful in terms of aesthetics, it’s beauty is enhanced by the deeply personal messages. This exhibition is up until around the new year, so I highly recommend checking it out.

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