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An Abstract Multi Media Painting On Paper.

Sam Gilliam (b.1933)

Sam Gilliam was born in Tupelo, Mississippi in 1933. Shortly after his birth, the family (Gilliam was one of eight children) moved to Louisville, KY where he was raised.  Gilliam attended college at the University of Louisville, receiving a BFA in 1955. That same year his first solo exhibition was held at the university.  He went on to serve in the Army and upon his return, began working towards his MFA.

After graduation, he taught for a year in the Louisville public schools until he moved to Washington D.C., where he continues to live today.  Gilliam continued to teach in the Washington public schools as well as the Maryland Institute College of Art, University of Maryland and Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh throughout his career.

By the time Gilliam arrived in Washington D.C. in 1962, the Washington Color School had been established and included Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, and Thomas Downing.  Gilliam met and became friends with Downing.  Soon, his works became large, hard-edged abstractions. Ever-evolving, he continued to experiment with innovative methods –  taping and pouring colors, folding and staining canvases. He created Beveled-edge paintings  in which he stretched the canvas on a beveled frame, so that the painting appeared to emerge from the wall on which it was hung. In 1965, he abandoned the frame and stretcher altogether and began draping and suspending his paint stained canvases much like hanging laundry on the clothesline.  Each work could be improvised and rearranged at will.  The first of these was displayed at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in 1969.  Gilliam received numerous public and private commissions for his draped canvases. One of the largest of these was Seahorses in 1975.  This six part work involved several hundred feet of paint stained canvas installed along the exterior walls of two adjacent wings of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  In 1972 he represented the US in the Venice Biennale. (continued)

By 1975, Gilliam began to create dynamic geometric collages influenced by Miles Davis and John Coltrane. In 1977, he produced similar collages in monochromatic black hues.  Re-invention has been a consistent component in Gilliam’s work throughout his career – he has constantly innovated, disrupted, and improvised and he is still doing all of it at age 86.  He is now being represented by Pace Gallery in New York and David Kordansky Gallery in Los Angeles.

Gilliam’s work is found in the collections of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington D.C.; Museum of Modern Art, NY; Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY; Tate Modern, London; and Los Angeles County Museum of Art, among many others.

Recent exhibitions include: Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power 1963-1983; Black: Color, Material, Concept, Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, 2015; Surface Matters, Edward H. Linde Gallery, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2015; Affecting Presence and the Pursuit of Delicious Experiences, the Menil Collection, Houston, 2015. 

A semi-permanent installation of Gilliam’s paintings is currently on view at Dia:Beacon, NY.


Photo: Sam Gilliam photographed on June 22, 2016 in Washington, D.C. (Marvin Joseph, Washington Post)

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