Elsie Driggs


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Painter and assemblage artist. Although noted in the late 1920s as a rising young artist and contributor to precisionism, following her one-person show in 1930 she did not have another for fifty years. Nevertheless, she remained creative into her nineties, over the years producing art in a range of styles and techniques. Born in Hartford, Connecticut, Driggs moved with her family in 1908 to the New York suburb of New Rochelle. In 1918 she began her training at the Art Students League, where her teachers included George Luks, John Sloan, and Maurice Sterne. Late in 1922 she departed for more than a year of study and travel in Italy. A 1926 visit to Pittsburgh, where the steel mills fired her imagination, led to the work upon which her reputation primarily rests. Pittsburgh (Whitney Museum, 1927), perhaps her most celebrated work, depicts hard-edged smokestacks, pipes, and other industrial forms riding triumphantly above billows of smoke. Compared to the staid tone of most precisionist work, this painting offers a more emotional, romantic response to subject, as well as a more vigorous and less buttoned-down composition. Her attraction to classical, orderly forms remained in tension with her fondness for animated, inventive elements. During the Depression, Driggs worked for a federal art project. In 1935, she married painter Lee Gatch, and they moved to a small rural residence in Lambertville, New Jersey, where she had to make do without her own studio. After his death in 1968, Driggs returned permanently to New York, where her art remained in touch with the moment. In the 1970s she made assemblages enclosed in Lucite boxes, while her 1980s paintings interpreted the contemporary urban environment.

Subjects: Art.

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