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February 11, 2022

Acquisition: David C. Driskell

David C. Driskell, "Current Forms: Yoruba Circle"

David C. Driskell
Current Forms: Yoruba Circle, 1969
acrylic on canvas
overall: 112.4 x 86.36 cm (44 1/4 x 34 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Purchased with support from the Ford Foundation
© Estate of David C. Driskell. Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, NY

David C. Driskell (1931–2020) was an accomplished artist, celebrated curator, and one of the world’s leading authorities on the history of African American art. The National Gallery of Art has acquired its first painting by Driskell, Current Forms: Yoruba Circle (1969), which was inspired by the West African aesthetic and religious traditions that Driskell immersed himself in during travels to Senegal, Ivory Coast, Ghana, and Nigeria beginning in 1969.

Current Forms: Yoruba Circle features the symbol of Shango, the orisha (deity) of fire, thunder, and justice. Shango was revered among communities of enslaved people in the Caribbean and the Americas and is still venerated by many from across the African Diaspora. In this painting, Shango’s circular head dominates the canvas, while the figure’s lower half contains calligraphic swirls and shapes evocative of Yoruba masks and motifs. Vibrant fields of pinks and blues frame and segment the figure of Shango, and the surface is animated by active strokes and splashes of purple, orange, and blue paint. Driskell merges color field and action painting with West African symbolism in a bold, compelling image that exemplifies his signature style.

Driskell had deep ties to the Washington, DC, area. He received his BA in art from Howard University in 1955 and an MFA from the Catholic University of America in 1962. He taught and chaired the art department at Howard University (1962–1966) and the department of art at the University of Maryland, College Park (1976­­–1998), which established the David C. Driskell Center for the Study of Visual Arts and Culture of African Americans and the African Diaspora in 2001.

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