Sam Gilliam, Abstract Artist of Drape Paintings, Dies at 88

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Sam Gilliam, Abstract Artist of Drape Paintings, Dies at 88

Sam Gilliam, the most well-known and pioneering abstract painter of lusciously dyed drape painting, took the medium completely in three dimensions more than any other artist of his generation, and on Saturday in Washington. I died at home. He was 88 years old.

His death was announced by David Kordansky Gallery in Los Angeles and Pace Gallery in New York. The cause was renal failure.

Mr. Gilliam had two anomalies. As a black artist, he was largely ignored by the higher levels of the arts until later in his career (although in 1972 he became the first black artist to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale). And as a black artist working on abstraction, he devoted his life to paintings with recognizable images and clear political messages that many of his black colleagues prefer. Still, his art, as always, opposed both painting and political art in many ways.

Gilliam matured in the 1960s and 70s, a time of great experimentation with abstract painting during the Vietnam War and the black civil rights struggle during times of political and social turmoil. But even in this context, he was particularly bold.

A brilliant colorist, he became known for freeing paintings from the flat straightness imposed by wooden stretchers. Instead, he draped unstretched abstract canvas from the ceiling with large curves and loops, or collected them and fixed them to the wall. In 1973, “A and the Carpenter, I”, a large band of canvas drawn with pink and blue airy clouds was piled up between two wooden sawhorses, making it look elegant even if it was unfinished. Introduced the element of manual labor in. And it looked different every time it was installed, like many of Gilliam’s works.

These efforts went back and forth between painting and sculpture, and his technique evoked everything from Jackson Pollock’s drips to tie-dyeing. They pushed the medium far beyond the wall-mounted canvas created at the time by Frank Stella and his followers. They were at the same time aggressive and lyrical, influencing the viewer’s space and providing a gorgeous, flowing color moment while rejecting a single safe center of view. And they challenged the viewer every time, “Is this a painting?”

This in itself created a kind of visual confusion that fits into the volatile times of the work. The paintings in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York are simply entitled “10/27/69” and are set against the backdrop of a major protest against the Vietnam War.

“The expressive act of marking and hanging it in space is always political,” Gilliam said in a 2018 interview with The Art Newspaper Joseda Silva. “My work is as political as the formal one.”

Gilliam’s use of unstretched fabrics, which did not fully embrace it and referred to paintings, influenced several generations of artists such as David Hammons, Jessica Stockholder, and Lassi Johnson.

“There is something very important about Sam’s improvisational recruitment that has continued to influence my generation and beyond,” Johnson said in a telephone interview on Monday. “It can transcend the race, but it’s not limited to not discussing the race. To me, he was a lighthouse of light.”

Sam Gilliam was born on November 30, 1933, in Tupelomis, the seventh of eight children. His father, also known as Sam, was a farmer. His mother, Esther Gilliam, was a seamstress and a housewife. Sam has been interested in painting since he was a child. She supplied him with paper and paperboard when it was pointed out by his mother that he spent a lot of time quietly painting the soil. This meant that one less child would be tracked. Horses were my favorite, almost fanatical subject.

Growing up primarily in Louisville, Kentucky, Gilliam received most of the formal education in middle and high school with an extraordinary emphasis on art. He studied at the University of Louisville, where he earned an undergraduate and graduate degree in painting. Throughout those years, his determination to be an artist was nurtured by a teacher who recognized his talent and motivation. He also cultivated his love for jazz throughout his life as an example of innovative art forms and black achievements.

Gilliam moved to Washington in 1962, arriving at the moment when color field painting, which relied on brightly dyed colors, was created by an Abstract Expressionist heir in New York City. Always interested in the physical nature of painting, by the late 1960s he had paved the way for this style by freeing stained glass canvas from stretchers.

The piece, suspended from the ceiling, was partially guided by gravity, falling and rising in large curved bands and loops. They were at the same time aggressive and captivating, affecting the viewer’s space and providing countless, seemingly chaotic, paint and color details.

The Drape paintings were signed by Mr. Gilliam, but it was by no means an exclusive way of working, and by the mid-1970s he had moved forward and returned to them primarily in the 1980s on a series of public committees. I did. The rest of his career sometimes seemed inconsistent, but the calm of all kinds of abstract paintings in a way that reflected his determination to leave no stones in terms of texture, color, or technique. It was a quest without.

Quilting was referenced in several pieces, including scraps of cloth found. The canvas was sometimes collaged on the canvas. Adding foreign objects such as yarn and glitter was just one of his tactics. It has all become one of the most diverse careers of post-war abstraction, united by a bold mind and material.

Gilliam’s work wasn’t completely overlooked in most of New York’s world of white art, but his career is centered around Washington, where he has been regularly exhibited in galleries since 1963 for the Phillips Collection. We held shows at several museums, including one. Includes a retrospective exhibition at the Corcoran School of the Art in 1967 and 2005.

He also maintained relationships with galleries across the country, from Philadelphia to San Francisco, and from Chicago to Houston. He held several solo exhibitions in New York between 1968 and 1991, but few in the same gallery. Shocking to many, he hasn’t held a gallery solo exhibition in New York since 1991. In 2017, Munutin Gallery held a solo exhibition of the gallery, exhibiting his work from 1967 to 1973, but in 1971 he held a modern project exhibition and conducted a small survey. At the Harlem Studio Museum in 1982.

But overall, a tall man with unusually strong eyes, Gilliam was happy to stay in Washington, except for the flashy heart of American art. In an interview with the Smithsonian’s Oral History in 1989, he said: I’m not saying I learned to love this, but I learned to accept it. The problem is staying here. “

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