One of the most important figures in American abstract art, Sam Gilliam emerged from the Washington, DC, cultural scene in the 1960s alongside Anne Truitt. Setting himself apart stylistically from Washington Color School painters such as Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland, Gilliam experimented with vibrantly colored, draped, and suspended canvases. These pioneering Drape paintings moved his canvases from the frame and wall into three-dimensional space, imparting a sculptural element to the installations and allowing them to become site-specific. Unique to each space, the soft folds of canvas may not be draped the same way twice. At Dia, one of Gilliam’s largest free-standing canvas installations, Carousel II (1969), will fill an entire gallery.
Displayed alongside this large Drape work will be paintings from Gilliam’s Beveled-Edge and Hard-Edge series. The artist began producing his Beveled-Edge works in 1967 in the midst of a period of radical artist development, and they were swiftly recognized as a groundbreaking step in his practice. These works seemingly project the canvas beyond the wall, challenging the traditional two-dimensional nature of painting with an implication of mass and volume. His earlier Hard-Edge series, which he began in 1963, provide a crucial context for his later works. In this series, sharp-edged geometric shapes echo the work of Gilliam’s peers in the Washington Color School, but hint at a more spontaneous and uninhibited approach to coloration and form.
Sam Gilliam was born in Tupelo, Mississippi, in 1933. He lives and works in Washington, DC.