David Driskell at 80: Doorways, Passages, and Thresholds of Light

This is the second post in a series by Curator Elsa Smithgall to honor artist David Driskell‘s 80th birthday and celebrate Creative Spirit: The Art of David C. Driskell on view through December 16 at The David C. Driskell Center at the University of Maryland, College Park. Read part one here.

When their father died in the forest, his room became a room of refuge . . .

His was a time of sweetness, of crimson flowers, orange light . . .

David Driskell, Doorway, 2009, serigraph, 6 x 9 in., The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Acquired 2010, From Doorway portfolio with poetry by Michael Albert, Cardinal Point Press

In my last post I looked back upon the days of David Driskell’s formative years at Howard and his early defining encounters with art at the Phillips and Barnett Aden Gallery.  Over the next fifty years, as his life brought him from Skowhegan to Talladega, Maine, Africa, and beyond, Driskell never lost sight of his “priestly calling” and abiding passion for “living with art.” In 2011 Driskell crossed into his 81st year—an important threshold for an artist who has come so far, accomplished so much, and opened the door for so many. In this vibrant multi-colored print by Driskell called Doorway from 2009, the artist represents the doorway as a passage between two worlds — interior and exterior, material and spiritual, real and imagined. As the colors and forms meld into one another like molten liquid, their fluid edges ebb and flow in undulating rhythms.

The print, part of a portfolio of the same name that was recently acquired by the Phillips, is currently on view in a 2nd floor gallery outside the Rothko Room. The portfolio developed out of a close collaboration between Driskell and writer Michael Albert. It comprises 12 serigraphs by Driskell set to the poignant poetry of Albert. Rendered in a style characteristic of his late work in collage, the prints reveal the artist’s love of overlapping, layered surfaces, and multi-colored forms, with each 6 x 9 inch image printed with an average of 20 different colors. Image and prose are richly interwoven into a tapestry that sings of nature and its spiritual, inner life. In thinking about Doorway, I was reminded of another variation on the theme in the form of H.G. Wells’s The Door in the Wall and Other Stories (1911) illustrated with photographs by Alvin Langdon Coburn. For the protagonist in Wells’s story, “the guise of wall and door offered . . . an outlet, a secret and peculiar passage of escape into another and altogether more beautiful world.” So too has Driskell taken that wondrous leap of faith into the world of the imagination. In the Doorway prints as in all of Driskell’s work, one feels his sense of exaltation before nature and the joy he derives from the experience of art making.

-Elsa Smithgall, Curator

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