Sam Gilliam was born in 1933 in Tupelo, Mississippi, and grew up in Louisville, Kentucky. He received an M.A. in painting at the University of Louisville in 1961. One year later, Mr. Gilliam moved to Washington, D.C., where he became an art instructor at the Corcoran School of Art.
His paintings are included in the collections of: the Museum of Modern Art; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Museum of American Art; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Walker Art Center; the National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian Institution; the High Museum; the Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; IBM Corporation; the Rockefeller Collection; the Tate Gallery, London; and Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris.
An artist committed to abstract art, Mr. Gilliam continually explores color and texture in his work. He made his mark in the art world by creating paintings unlike anything anyone had seen before. Sam Gilliam made a series of “drape Paintings”, unstretched canvases that were saturated with color, then gathered and hung like curtains from walls and ceilings. His distinctive style produced suspended paintings that bridged the gap between painting, sculpture and environmental design.
He abandoned the stained, unstretched canvases and began to paint more deliberate, controlled works. He applied thick, colorful acrylic paints that were spread with rakes and brooms to produce heavily textured surfaces. Some paintings were cut up and sewn, like quilts, others had canvases with unusual geometric shapes. He is currently working on “collages”, which are painted on wood or board, cut into desired shapes and reassembled.
Gilliam also developed interests in sculpture and printmaking. The sculptures, made of cut out aluminum and enamel, have been commissioned all over the United States, including an installation at the Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. He began producing monotype prints in the early 1980’s.
Sam Gilliam’s artwork has been shown in every major cultural institution in the United States. His work was selected in 1966, for the Ten Negro Artists From the U.S. show in Dakar, Senegal. In 1968, his artwork was exhibited in New York at the Museum of Modern Art, and in the Studio Museum in Harlem’s inaugural exhibition. A one-man show was mounted, in 1969, at the Corcoran Gallery, in Washington, D.C., and his artwork was included at the Annual Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting at the Whitney Museum of Modern Art, in New York, also in 1969.
In the next five years, his paintings were installed in major exhibitions at the Art Institute of Chicago, the San Francisco Museum of Art, the Walker Art Center, in Minneapolis, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Brooklyn Museum, in New York City. Two major solo exhibits were mounted in 1976, at the J.B. Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky, and at the Rutgers University Art Gallery in New Jersey. His work was also shown abroad in France, Japan, Ireland, Yugoslavia, India, and at the 36th Biennale in Venice, Italy.
In 1967, he received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. He also received the Chicago Art Institute’s Norman W. Harris Prize, in 1969. The Solomon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship was awarded to Mr. Gilliam in 1971. He received a second National Endowment for the Arts grant for the years 1973-1975, and a third in 1989.
Mr. Gilliam, an accomplished and respected artist and teacher, was awarded Honorary Doctorates at the University of Louisville, in 1980, the Atlanta College of Art in 1987, and Northwestern University in 1989. He was a professor of painting at the University of Maryland from 1982-1985 and professor of art the Carnegie Mellon Institute, 1985-1989.
Sam Gilliam is currently working on a sculpture installation commissioned by the Port Authority of New York Marine Air Terminal, LaGuardia Airport.
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