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UPDATED at 12:22 p.m. Monday, April 6: David C. Driskell died from complications of the coronavirus, his nephew and manager told The Washington Post.


David C. Driskell, the namesake of the High Museum of Art’s David C. Driskell Prize, died Wednesday, April 1, at age 88. The cause was not given. The Driskell Prize dates to 2005, and each year honors an African American artist and/or scholar for outstanding work in his or her area of expertise.

Driskell’s death was announced by the Driskell Center at the University of Maryland, where he taught from 1977 until his retirement in 1998. Driskell, a painter and a scholar, has long been recognized as one of the world’s leading authorities on African American Art.

The David C. Driskell serigraph titled “The Practice” dates to 2008. (Courtesy of Raven Fine Art Editions)

Driskell was born in Eatonton, Georgia, on June 7, 1931, and his family ultimately moved to North Carolina. He was a graduate of Howard University, had an M.F.A. from Catholic University and nine honorary doctoral degrees. He also attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine and studied art history in The Hague, Netherlands.

He worked in a range of media and styles, addressing such issues as apartheid in South Africa, jazz and abstract cosmologies. DC Moore gallery in New York showed Driskell’s work regularly since adding him to its roster of artists in 1995.

In 2000, President Bill Clinton honored Driskell with the National Humanities Medal, in a class of 12 that included writer Ernest J. Gaines (A Lesson Before Dying), music producer Quincy Jones, novelist-poet Barbara Kingsolver (The Poisonwood Bible) and novelist-playwright Toni Morrison (The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon).

A 2006 book titled David C. Driskell: Artist and Scholar details his life and work.

The High Museum’s relationship with Driskell began in 2000, when it presented the concurrent exhibitions To Conserve a Legacy and Narratives of African American Art and Identity: The David C. Driskell Collection, which looked at African American art in a broad historical context.

“David C. Driskell has meant so much to so many,” High Museum director Rand Suffolk said Thursday in a statement. “He was an artist, scholar, mentor, devoted husband, a dear friend and life trustee of the High Museum of Art. For 16 years the David C. Driskell Prize has recognized artists and scholars who, like him, have created a body of work that continues to define the field of African American art. He was a beacon for young artists, and he generously shared so much of himself with so many. His passing leaves a void in our community, but we will continue to honor his legacy through our dedication to the art and scholarship he championed.”


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