Sam Gilliam (b. 1933 – ) is one of the most important artists to know in the genres of Color Field painting and Abstract Expressionism. Associated with the Washington Color School, one of his biggest contributions was being the first to introduce the idea of a painted canvas without the stretcher bars (c. 1965). In his more recent pieces he has worked with polypropylene, computer generated imaging, metallic and iridescent acrylics, hand-made paper, aluminum, steel, and plastic.
Sam Gilliam received his Bachelor and Masters degree of Fine Arts at the University of Louisville. A native of Tupelo, Mississippi, he made Washington, D.C. his home in 1962 where his career and style began to evolve. In the early 1960s, Gilliam, like many other artists at the time, was inspired by the political and social issues that were at the forefront. He tackled the subject matter through abstract expression, exploring the transformative and changing dynamics of color and light. His early style moved from abstract figures to large paintings of flatly applied color, then eventually to painting on canvas material without stretcher bars – the technique for which he is most famous. His drape paintings represent a sculptural aspect in painting. He is attracted to the power and the way that the drape paintings function in a given space, as they can be suspended from ceilings or arranged on walls or floors as needed. In the 1970s and 80s, Gilliam expanded his style to geometric collages influenced by jazz and to quilted paintings reminiscent of the African patchwork quilts from his childhood. In recent years, he has moved to textured paintings that incorporate metal forms.
Today, Sam Gilliam’s career not only includes being a professional artist but teaching art as well. He has taught at prestigious schools such as Maryland Institute, College of Art and the University of Maryland. He continues to spend time conducting workshops and lectures in the US and Internationally.
**My thoughts: I think the idea of the drape paintings is genius. The same pieces could look completely different or change a space in a whole new way than they affected a space before. I mean, it’s efficient if nothing else! I have to agree with Gilliam in that there is a certain amount of power in that, and I can definitely see how that can relate to the black experience. I think there’s some sort of parallel between the transformative quality of his drape paintings, and how his career has continued to transform and evolve over the years.