Remembering the work of Sam Gilliam
Lithograph on aluminum foil and paper
25 11/16″h x 19 3/8″w
Collection of Washington County Museum of Fine Arts
Museum purchase, A1863,76.0330African American artist Sam Gilliam, a pioneer in abstract art, is renowned for large, colorful paintings, sculptures, and prints such as this example, which is the first of three lithographs pulled from the series. While the work of earlier Black artists like Jacob Lawrence (1917‒2000) and Romare Bearden (1911‒1988) was representational and engaged directly with social and cultural concerns, Gilliam’s art, like that of Alma Thomas (1891‒1978), primarily concentrated on non-objective, formal qualities. In Wave, a vibrant two-layered image, Gilliam sought to capture the undulating forms of water by placing a rippled sheet of aluminum foil on top of a sheet of paper and carefully juxtaposing different bands of color, including blue, green, yellow, and red. This work epitomizes Gilliam’s lifelong experimentation with translating pictorial techniques to the context of printmaking. Indeed, Wave exhibits the translucency and painterly quality of a watercolor as the gestural, soft washes of hues subtly merge with one another.
Gilliam was born in Tupelo, Mississippi, and grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, where he received an MA in painting at the University of Louisville in 1961. In 1962, Gilliam settled in Washington, DC, where he joined the Washington Color School. Like group members such as Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, Gene Davis, and Howard Mehring, Gilliam became fascinated by the qualities of color and often experimented with using acrylic paints on unprimed canvases. Over the course of his career, Gilliam was also frequently inspired by colorful quilts and the dripped paint found in the “action paintings” of Abstract Expressionists Jackson Pollock and Mark Tobey. Gilliam received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the University of Louisville in 1980 and Northwestern University in 1990.
For an obituary and tribute about Gilliam, click this link: https://dcist.com/story/22/06/29/sam-gilliam-obituary-dc-painter-hirshhorn-phillips-collection/
Full Circle, an exhibition of his recent work is currently on view at the Hirshhorn museum in Washington, DC. https://hirshhorn.si.edu/exhibitions/sam-gilliam-full-circle/This WeekendArt is sponsored by Volvo Group To see more WeekendArt columsn, go to