b. 1933, USA

Sam Gilliam Biography

Sam Gilliam is a leading African American abstractionist, and a key figure of American post-war painting. As an innovator within the Washington Colour School, Sam Gilliam's art pushed the boundaries of colour field abstraction. Recent works in various media continue to blur the lines between painting and sculpture.

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Born and raised in Tupelo, Mississippi, Gilliam studied at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, graduating with a BA in 1955 and an MFA in 1961. He cites the Marvel comics he read as a child as early influences. Later the artist would find inspiration in the painting style of Italian masters like Giotto and Tintoretto.

Moving to Washington, D.C. in 1962 Gilliam encountered Washington Colour School artists like Kenneth Noland and Morris Louis. He took on and expanded the Washington Colour School approach to abstraction, pouring thinned paint onto unprimed canvases—a reaction itself against Abstract Expressionism's thick expressive brushstrokes.

Gilliam's early expansion of the methods he encountered is exemplified in Light Fan (1966), in which as the poured acrylic paint was apparently still wet and bleeding into the raw canvas the artist folded the painting to create a space-defining diagonal line amidst the multi-coloured washes. The artist would later describe the work as a 'springboard to real sculpture, to real sculptured painting.'

From this approach evolved Sam Gilliam's drape paintings: unstretched pieces of painted cloth artfully folded and suspended while wet from walls and ceilings. These works have ranged in scale from smaller gallery pieces like Swing Sketch (1968) and Untitled (2011) to large-scale installations like Seahorses (1975), which consisted of three canvases draped in V shapes along the outer wall of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Not beholden to any one approach, Gilliam continues to innovate and explore new ideas. He produces works across the spectrum of dimensionality, from abstract painted sculpture compositions like A and the Kitty (1998) to arrangements of flat, two-dimensional planes of colour such as Homage to the Square (2016–2017).

Sam Gilliam's artworks vary in medium as much as in form. He creates paintings, collages, and sculptures from paint, canvas, plastic, wood, metal, and a range of other materials. In an interview with Christian Lund in Sam Gilliam's studio, the artist said of this drive toward variety, 'that's what I'm here for. ... that's what art is supposed to do; it's supposed to change.'

Sam Gilliam's paintings and sculptures can be found in galleries around the world and major public collections such as Tate, London; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; and the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek, Denmark.

Sam Gilliam Solo Exhibitions include:

Sam Gilliam, Dia Beacon, New York (2019); The Music of Color: Sam Gilliam, 1967—1973, Kunstmuseum Basel (2018); Sam Gilliam: a retrospective, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (2005); Golden Element Inside Gold, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1993); Red & Black to "D": Paintings by Sam Gilliam, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York (1982); Sam Gilliam, The Museum of Modern Art, New York (1971).

Same Gilliam Group Exhibitions include:

With Pleasure: Pattern and Decoration in American Art 1972–1985, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2019); Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, Tate Modern, London (2017); African American Art: Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights Era, and Beyond, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C. (2012); The Shape of Colour: Excursions in Colour Field Art 1950–2005, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto (2005).

Michael Irwin | Ocula | 2020

Sam Gilliam Featured Artworks

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Untitled (Top Bunk) by Sam Gilliam contemporary artwork print
Sam Gilliam Untitled (Top Bunk), 1975 Screenprint in colours with hand-colouring
53 x 53 cm
Galerie Thomas Contact Gallery
Tracing by Sam Gilliam contemporary artwork painting
Sam Gilliam Tracing, 1971 Acrylic on canvas
122.6 x 181.6 x 12.1 cm
Pace Gallery
Musketeers by Sam Gilliam contemporary artwork painting, mixed media
Sam Gilliam Musketeers, 1998 Acrylic on sewn cloth
66 x 72.4 x 17.7 cm
Galerie Thomas Contact Gallery
Foggy by Sam Gilliam contemporary artwork painting, mixed media
Sam Gilliam Foggy, 2021 Acrylic, aluminium granules, copper chop, sawdust and flocking, encaustic medium, paper collage element on canvas
243.8 x 243.8 x 10.2 cm
Pace Gallery
In Now by Sam Gilliam contemporary artwork painting
Sam Gilliam In Now, 2021 Acrylic on canvas, bevel-edge
121.9 x 182.9 x 10.2 cm
Pace Gallery
Untitled by Sam Gilliam contemporary artwork painting, works on paper
Sam Gilliam Untitled, 2019 Watercolour and acrylic on washi paper
185.4 x 97.8 cm
David Kordansky Gallery Contact Gallery
Untitled by Sam Gilliam contemporary artwork painting, works on paper
Sam Gilliam Untitled, 2019 Watercolour and acrylic on washi paper
185.4 x 97.8 cm
David Kordansky Gallery Contact Gallery
Green April by Sam Gilliam contemporary artwork painting
Sam Gilliam Green April, 1969 Acrylic on canvas
248.9 x 688.3 x 9.8 cm
Pace Gallery

Sam Gilliam Current & Recent Exhibitions

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Sam Gilliam Represented By

David Kordansky Gallery contemporary art gallery in Los Angeles, USA David Kordansky Gallery Los Angeles, New York
Pace Gallery contemporary art gallery in 540 West 25th Street, New York, USA Pace Gallery Beijing, East Hampton, Geneva, Hong Kong, London, Los Angeles, New York, Palm Beach, Palo Alto, Seoul

Sam Gilliam In Ocula Magazine

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