Sam Gilliam

(b. 1933)

About The Artist


Long associated with the Washington Color School movement, Sam Gilliam is known for his influential Drape paintings, works embracing canvas as a primary medium which he drapes, wraps, as well as traditionally stretches. Gilliam has often compared his style of painting to the sharps, flats, and syncopated rhythms of jazz, particularly the music of Ornette Coleman. His work achieves a rich interplay of hues that are by turns bold and luminous, fragile and translucent, while the canvas itself dances between two and three dimensions.

Gilliam was a rising star in the art world in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, his breakthrough methods earning him comparisons to Jackson Pollock. His work was being exhibited at the Whitney, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the American Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, but somewhere along the way, the art world nearly left him behind.

The boundaries Gilliam broke in the early ‘70s—shooting him into the consciousness of the art world—were the same boundaries which ultimately detained him. An African American artist, his work did not fit au courant conceptions of “black art.” In 2012, however, the gallerist David Kordansky approached Gilliam to propose a solo exhibition—the artist’s first. Curated by the artist Rashid Johnson, the show was a smash, rightfully returning Gilliam to the chronicles of art historical magnitude. Today Gilliam’s work adorns the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Fowler, William. "Searching for Sam Gilliam: The 81-year-old Art Genius Saved from Oblivion." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 15 Oct. 2015. Web. 08 Apr. 2016. Lewis, Jim. "Red Orange Yellow Green and Blue Period." W Magazine. Condé Nast, 28 Nov. 2014. Web. 08 Apr. 2016.

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