Sam Gilliam

(b. 1933)

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(1933– )

American painter. He was born in Tupelo, Missouri, studied at the University of Louisville, Kentucky, 1952–6 and 1958–61, and in 1962 settled in Washington, DC, where he turned to abstraction and worked in the vein of Louis and Noland. In 1968 he began producing stretcherless pictures, which were sometimes suspended from the ceiling to create pleated forms referred to as ‘drape paintings’, and he has subsequently experimented with other techniques, including the use of poles and thongs as supports to produce works that are part painting and part sculpture. Some of his works are huge, creating a kind of environmental experience (Autumn Surf, 1973, MoMA, San Francisco). Gilliam has become the best-known black American abstract painter and as such has attracted some controversy, fuelled by his very success within the mainstream art world, for his supposed lack of engagement with black culture. Nonetheless, some critics have detected an ‘aesthetic of blackness’ in Gilliam's work. Keith Morrison was reminded of his own childhood memories of the masquerade in the West Indies and the ‘bright colours of African and African-American clothes and design’.

Subjects: Art.

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