In 1938 Howard Daum and his mother emigrated to New York from Poland, settling in the Bronx. Through his studies at the Art Students League (1940-42) and with Hans Hofmann (1944-45), Daum became associated with a group of painters including Will Barnet, Steve Wheeler, Peter Busa, Robert Barrell, and others, who shared ideas about Modernism and endeavored to create a distinctly American form of post-Cubist abstract art.
Fusing a range of influences including Native American and Surrealist art forms, Hofmann's color theories, and aspects of the work of Josef Albers and other members of the American Abstract Artists group, these artists developed what became known as Indian Space Painting – a term coined by Daum to describe the work of these very urban, non-Indian, New York City-based painters. The Indian Space Painters were especially attracted to very different perception of positive/negative space relationships that are intrinsic to the tribal art of the American Northwest Coast.
The brightly colored abstract paintings of Indian Space Painters aimed to emulate the ideographic forms of Indian art, which were viewed as symbolic of elemental, universal forces, as well as the Northwest tribal art's distinctive characteristics of flat space, all-over design, interlocking (but not overlapping) shapes, and dynamic patterns transcending figure-ground distinctions. The Indian Space Painters were rediscovered in the 1990s and are now regarded as revolutionary artists whose innovations could be regarded as the "missing link" – the bridge to Abstract Expressionism.
In Daum's work, more than the others', one sees a playful exuberance reminiscent of the art of Paul Klee and Joan Miró. Daum is often considered to be the consummate representative of the group.Prominent collections holding his work include Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC; Arkansas Art Center, Little Rock, AR; and Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN.