Don Driver is regarded as one of New Zealand’s most significant and challenging contemporary artists. He was born in 1930 in Hastings, and has been resident in New Plymouth since childhood. Driver was largely self-taught, having received no formal school or tertiary art education. However, since his early beginnings as an artist he has been an astute and avid reader of modern art traditions, with his exploration into the nature of ‘art’ producing some of the most compelling and significant art/sculpture to emerge in the contemporary New Zealand art arena.
Driver’s work has evolved along several routes as he experimented freely with both media and form. The diversity of his oeuvre has been motivated by his constant efforts to define the boundaries of art and to discover its unique ability to transform the apparently banal and everyday into something quite uniquely powerful and ‘other’.
In Driver’s early work of the 1960’s, this took the form of a ‘primitivising’ tendency not unlike that evident in the sculpture of Henry Moore and Chadwick. Driver’s fascination for non-western art, particularly that of African and Asian art also saw the beginnings of Driver’s own personal collection. In the later 1960’s, however, Driver abandoned the overtly ‘primitivistic’ nature of his early work, turning his attention to the production of powerful combinations of ordinary everyday objects, such as signs and symbols. This focus on the transformative power of materials led him to contemplate the key elements of art itself, that is, colour, shape, form and composition/arrangement. The media that Driver utilised for his works is uniquely diverse, resulting in his bizarre and often unsettling ‘combines’ or assemblages to that of pure abstraction and relief.
Driver’s work has received a variety of awards and grants and is well represented in major public and private collections. He was the recipient of a QEII Arts Council International Study grant and a New Zealand/Australia Foundation Study grant, which lead to his residency at the University of Tasmania in 1994. Previously, he was awarded the Caltex sponsored NZ Academy of Fine Arts Award (1991), BP art award (1987) and the Sarjeant Gallery Whanganui Art Award (1984). In the 1970s he received several QE Arts Council art awards, the Hansells Sculpture Award and the Benson and Hedges art award.
Driver’s work has been in numerous solo exhibitions in institutions such as the Auckland City Art Gallery, Govett-Brewster, Sarjeant Gallery, Manawatu, and Wellington City Art Gallery. Further, Driver has participated in several key and definitive NZ art group shows including Headlands: Thinking through NZ Art (1992), A Decade of Assemblage (1992) and When Art Hits the Headlines (1987). He also exhibited on numerous occasions with the historic Group 60 shows that date from the late 1960s as well as being chosen to represent NZ in several Australian Biennales.