A face, or rather, fragments of a face, stares forward: a kaleidoscopic portrait, in which each space is cleanly blocked out by color, and details appear scraped out of the thick paint. It's an image that's hard to pin down, somewhere between cubist fragmentation and fauvist exuberance. That’s Mask Series II by David C. Driskell, one of the lead artworks in Arthur Ross Gallery’s David C. Driskell & Friends: Creativity, Collaboration, and Friendship. Running through September 15th, the show explores the work of the eponymous African American artist, art historian, and curator, with a focus on his relationship with artistic contemporaries.
Driskell was inspired by the words of a mentor: “You can’t just be an artist. You must also show the world what our people contributed.” And so, he became not only an accomplished creator, but a "critical catalyst" in expanding the presence of Black American art in museums. This guiding principle comes through clearly in his work; Mask Series II is an homage to vibrant African masks, and Five Blue Notes is inspired by the continent’s quilt-making and strip-weaving traditions. 
Driskell’s artwork sets the tone for the exhibit, which is broadened further by the inclusion of other artists. His Untitled (Self-Portrait), a grayscale pencil on paper sketch of a disproportionately large-headed child, sits above Romare Bearden’s similarly hued but more fragmented collage Family—a staging that prompts us to consider the changing dynamics in family, and the potential awkwardness of each role. Driskell’s more vibrant Landscape at Falmouth pairs nicely with other artists’ nature explorations of varying abstraction. 
Through all the works runs the curators’ concentration on form and color. Margo Humphrey’s The Red Bed is mainly based in bold primary colors, with masterfully blended gradient backgrounds. Clean lines and boxes are prevalent, and some works are even neatly split into separate panels, like John Thomas Biggers' Family Ark. Others are less Euclidean, featuring curves, bends, and smudges. 
Yet another common thread, in keeping with Driskell's philosophy, is the realities of African American life. From paintings of a Black Madonna to Melville Edwards’ work with chains to images of children playing in a field, the exhibit traces a compelling portrait of Black history and reality. The exhibit also tracks the diverse emotionscape that comes with a complicated past – melancholy, frustration, confinement, but also moments of relief and joy. David C. Driskell & Friends: Creativity, Collaboration, and Friendship is a masterclass in using an anchoring artist and concept as a launching pad for an exploratory yet coherent exhibit.