(American, B. 1933)
Sam Gilliam is a prominent Color Field painter who is associated with the Washington Color School, a faction of artists whose name derives from a 1965 group show held at the Washington Gallery of Modern Art in DC. These artists, Gilliam included, are known for their monumental and affecting paintings; however, their work remains distinct from the contemporaneous Abstract Expressionism movement, as it generally exhibits clear organizational and premeditated qualities. Gilliam is credited with conflating the categories of painting and sculpture by way of colossal, draped canvases.
Gilliam grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, and after relocating to Washington, DC in 1962 as a young man, Gilliam began experimenting with raw canvas, a broad color scheme, and large-scale works. Though Gilliam’s early work engaged with current social issues and made a reference to his experiences as a black man, by the mid- to late-’60s, Gilliam began to heavily manipulate his abstract canvases. He bathed them in color, for instance, and he folded them, thus producing work that leaned toward Abstract Expressionism, as it was heavily reliant on elements of chance, improvisation, and intuition.
Around 1975, Gilliam moved away from draped canvases, and since then, he has produced considerable bodies of work ranging from geometric collages and quilted paintings inspired by his African American heritage. Gilliam’s work is held in major collections and he has been the subject to many important shows including the Studio Museum of Harlem and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.