not but nothing other: African-American Portrayals, 1930s to Today

David Driskell (born 1931)
Woman With Flowers, 1972

In this luxuriant painting, David Driskell offers up an image of African American femininity and interior life. Her eyes closed, a seated young woman holds a verdant bouquet of flowers on her lap. The identification of the feminine with nature has a long history in Western art, a theme that Driskell now reclaims for his community—Black womanhood would in fact be a recurrent subject of his paintings in the early 1970s. Yet there is perhaps an undertone of conservatism in this image of a feminine “mystique,” a serenity at odds with the assertions of powerful women found in contemporary works by, for example, Elizabeth Catlett or Barkley L. Hendricks.

But if Driskell’s conception of the theme is somewhat traditional, his formal approach in Woman with Flowers is adventurous, combining passages of expressionist dripping and splattering in the bouquet with collage elements drawn from photographs as well as his own black-and-white woodcut prints. Perhaps here too, in this technique, something of the feminine appears, with his female family members’ “quilt aesthetic” providing a homespun origin for Driskell’s use of collage.

Click here to hear Cyree Bowen talk about this work.

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