Sam Doyle attended Penn School—founded in 1862 to teach skills to newly liberated slaves near the Sea Islands off South Carolina. It was during his years there that he first received encouragement for his art. Yet, he chose to remain on the island of his birth, St. Helena, and worked near the town of Beaufort—despite encouragement to move away and study art.
Following his retirement in the 1960s, Doyle devoted himself to painting themes and characters from his Gullah community. He also portrayed famous figures like Ray Charles and Jackie Robinson, as well as many local celebrities and characters from home-grown folklore. After Doyle’s inclusion in the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s pivotal exhibition “Black Folk Art in America 1930–1980” (1982), curated by Jane Livingston, the artist’s work brought him notoriety and praise—the late Jean-Michel Basquiat on one occasion traded his own artworks for Doyle’s and Ed Ruscha paid postmortem tribute to the artist with his painting “Where Are You Going, Man? (For Sam Doyle), 1985.” Doyle’s oeuvre can be found in important private and museum collections the world over and have been part of numerous exhibitions.