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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

Exhibition view: Sam Gilliam, Watercolors, Pace Gallery, Geneva (21 January–19 March 2021). © Sam Gilliam / 2020 Artists Rights Society. Courtesy Pace Gallery.

Sam Gilliam Featured Artworks

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Untitled by Sam Gilliam contemporary artwork
Sam GilliamUntitled, 2020Watercolour on washi
181.6 x 100.3 cm
Pace Gallery
Untitled by Sam Gilliam contemporary artwork
Sam GilliamUntitled, 2020Watercolour on washi
181.6 x 100.3 cm
Pace Gallery
The Mississippi "Shake Rag" by Sam Gilliam contemporary artwork
Sam GilliamThe Mississippi "Shake Rag", 2020Acrylic on canvas
243.8 x 243.8 cm
Pace Gallery
Untitled by Sam Gilliam contemporary artwork
Sam GilliamUntitled, 2019Watercolour and acrylic on washi paper
185.4 x 97.8 cm
David Kordansky Gallery Contact Gallery
Untitled by Sam Gilliam contemporary artwork
Sam GilliamUntitled, 2019Watercolour and acrylic on washi paper
185.4 x 97.8 cm
David Kordansky Gallery Contact Gallery
Untitled by Sam Gilliam contemporary artwork
Sam GilliamUntitled, 2011Acrylic on polypropylene
David Kordansky Gallery Contact Gallery
Green April by Sam Gilliam contemporary artwork
Sam GilliamGreen April, 1969Acrylic on canvas
248.9 x 688.3 x 9.8 cm
Pace Gallery
10/27/69 by Sam Gilliam contemporary artwork
Sam Gilliam10/27/69, 1969Acrylic on canvas
Pace Gallery

Sam Gilliam Current & Recent Exhibitions

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Contemporary art exhibition, Sam Gilliam, Watercolors at Pace Gallery, Geneva
Open Now
21 January–19 March 2021 Sam Gilliam Watercolors Pace GalleryGeneva
Contemporary art exhibition, Sam Gilliam, Watercolors at Palm Beach, USA
Closed
11 December 2020–3 January 2021 Sam Gilliam Watercolors Palm BeachPalm Beach
Contemporary art exhibition, Sam Gilliam, Existed Existing at Pace Gallery, New York
Closed
6 November–19 December 2020 Sam Gilliam Existed Existing Pace GalleryNew York

Sam Gilliam Represented By

Pace Gallery contemporary art gallery in New York, USA Pace Gallery New York, London, Geneva, Palo Alto, Hong Kong, Seoul, Beijing

Sam Gilliam In Ocula Magazine

Art Basel’s Online Viewing Rooms: Seven Advisory Selections Ocula Insight Art Basel’s Online Viewing Rooms: Seven Advisory Selections By Sam Gaskin & Rory Mitchell, London

See eight of the most collectible art works made during a hard but historic year.

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ADAA The Art Show 2020 Ocula Photolog ADAA The Art Show 2020

Members of The Art Dealers Association of America (ADAA) joined forces for The Art Show at the end of February (27 February–1 March 2020). The 2020 iteration saw more than half of its presentations dedicated to a single artist and 19 exhibitions focused on female artists, in addition to vibrant thematic and group surveys.

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Sam Gilliam In Related Press

Your Concise New York Art Guide for Fall 2019 Related Press Your Concise New York Art Guide for Fall 2019 10 September 2019, Hyperallergic

As always, there are many wonderful exhibitions, film festivals, and art events taking place throughout the fall in New York. We've put together our recommendations, and hope that they encourage you to explore the artistic happenings of this great city. Focusing on museums, art nonprofits, and galleries that continue to make New York a global hub...

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SAM GILLIAM with Tom McGlynn Related Press SAM GILLIAM with Tom McGlynn 5 September 2019, The Brooklyn Rail

At its very core, the intrinsic value of art—which can be disruptive, unpredictable, and at the very least challenging—has tremendous transformative and healing incentives. Whether it occurs at the first encounter or over time, the implications for the viewer, be they formal or emotional, are simultaneously simple and complex, generous...

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The Colors of the Sixties Related Press The Colors of the Sixties 6 April 2019, Hyperallergic

The eighth floor of the Whitney Museum of American Art, as David Breslin, the Director of the Collection, sees it, is 'a place for surprises.' The elegant spaces of the museum's top floor, catching the light off the river through its skylights and glass walls, have felt enchanted ever since it opened in 2015 with the Early Modernist 'Forms...

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London exhibitions: black rights on both sides of the Atlantic and Middle Eastern spaceship diners Related Press London exhibitions: black rights on both sides of the Atlantic and Middle Eastern spaceship diners 1 September 2017, The Art Newspaper

What a show! Each section and, indeed, pretty much each individual in this rich but rigorous celebration of black artists working in the US in the 1960s and 1970s, could spin off into a separate exhibition in its own right. The various responses to the black civil rights movement and what it meant to be a black artist in this turbulent time range...

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