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In Remembrance of Sam Gilliam

Updated: Jul 16, 2022

This week I found out about the passing of artist Sam Gilliam at my sons basketball game. I had no verbal words to express my emotions. My mind was busy with thoughts, all I could do was take out my phone and express myself. In this blog post I want to honor the wonderful individual he was to me.

I am truly saddened at the passing of Sam Gilliam. I had the privilege to meet him in his Washington D.C. studio many years ago. We talked about a multitude of artist such as Kara Walker and the performance artist Joseph Beuys. We spoke for hours in his studio about his time working at Howard University. I remember him being so kind and thoughtful and his love for art was immense. After our discussion he gave me bags of mosquito netting to deepen my perspective of art.

Before meeting him, I was advised by one of my college instructors to look at his work. While working in the Corcoran’s Libary I came across slides of his draped canvas. The painting was hanging outside, this was revolutionary in my eyes, this was my first experience with the work of Mr. Gilliam. In class after seeing my paintings on unstressed canvas my teacher Kendall Buster mentioned that I look at the work of Sam Gilliam. From there I contacted the Marsha Mataka Gallery and arranged to visit the gallery. The work of Sam Gilliam stood out to me amongst all the other art displayed. The style and composition drew me into his work, I wasn’t disappointed. The paintings on view displayed markings and layered surfaces. His work deepened my love affair with abstract art. To be quite honest my love affair started with Jackson Pollock painting on a school trip to New York in 1999. As a young art student I remember being awe inspired standing in front of one of the most amazing paintings I have ever seen. If my memory serves me correctly the painting was title Alchemy.

Sam Gilliam is the last artist from the Washington Color School which included artist such as Keneth Nolan’s, Morris Lewis and Alma Thomas. The Art Story describes the Washington Color School as the artists used color, and not drawing, to create and delineate simple geometric forms. They often spoke of wanting to put pure color on the canvas to create an immediate, all at once, visual experience for the viewer. This optical experience became more important than conveying subject matter. Many of the artists associated with the Washington Color School used a soak stain technique whereby thinned acrylic paint saturates the raw canvas. Instead of sitting on top of the canvas, the color becomes one with the canvas. Without the physical layers of paint, this technique emphasizes the two-dimensional nature of the picture plane. I would advise doing a Google search to view the works of this group of pivotal artist. Currently The Hirshhron Museum is having a retrospective titled “Sam Gilliam:Full Circle” on display May 25- Sep 11,2022. If you’re in Washington D.C. area stop by the museum and check out the work of this amazing artist. The art world has truly lost a giant in the industry.

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