School of Art Presents Sam Gilliam’s ‘Color Constructions’

Posted: July 31, 2009 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: August 31, 2009 at 12:05 pm

Lullaby by Sam Gilliam

Lullaby by Sam Gilliam

This fall, Mason’s School of Art presents an exhibition of Sam Gilliam’s paintings called “Color Constructions.” The exhibition by one of the foremost contemporary artists in the United States will be located in the School of Art Gallery from Sept. 7 through October 2. The gallery is located in the School of Art Building, 1st floor, room 1001, on Mason’s Fairfax Campus. An opening reception will be held on Wednesday, Sept. 9, from 6 to 8 p.m.

The exhibition will include recent abstract works on panels using color as the primary visual motivating ingredient. In these collage-like reliefs, Gilliam has attached shapes to a paneled surface, basing the placement of each shape on its color.

In addition, the exhibition will feature two draped canvases, a concept that launched Gilliam into prominence in the national and international contemporary art scene in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

“Sam Gilliam is a resolute abstract painter whose works are generated through formal, psychological and aesthetic elements,” says Walter Kravitz, director of the Fine Arts Gallery. “His compositions are the result of thinking through color.”

Born in Tupelo, Miss. in 1933, Gilliam grew up in Louisville, Ky. After serving in the U.S. Army from 1956 to 1958, he received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in fine arts from the University of Louisville.

In 1962, Gilliam moved to Washington, D.C., and soon became associated with the Washington Color School, a group of D.C. area painters that included Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, Thomas Downing and others who were known for their minimal use of colors on canvas and for their orderly style of painting.

Gilliam and his contemporaries were influenced by the Abstract Expressionist movement of the 1950s. In 1965, Gilliam became the first painter to introduce the idea of painting on an unsupported canvas by painting unprimed canvas without stretcher bars and hanging the draped canvas from ceilings or arranging it on the floor.

In the mid 1970s, inspired by the music of Miles Davis and John Coltrane, he created a series of geometric collages titled “Black Paintings,” which featured granular black acrylic paint.

In the 1980s, Gilliam poured large quantities of vibrant acrylic paint over canvases, cut the canvas into pieces and then stitched it together in an improvisational way, resulting in works that were reminiscent of African-American quilts.

Through the 1990s, Gilliam continued to incorporate more sculptural elements to his paintings, and his more recent work features monochromatic rectangular panels arranged in irregular grids.

Gilliam has received many commissions, grants and honorary doctorates, and he was one of six artists chosen to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale in 1972.

Gilliam has had his work displayed in numerous museums and galleries. His first solo exhibition was in 1968 at the Phillips Collection, followed by one in 1971 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The Corcoran Gallery of Art presented a retrospective of Gilliam’s career in 2005.

His work is in the public collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, Baltimore Museum of Art, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the Museum of Modern Art, among others.

Gilliam has also taught in the Washington, D.C., public school system and at the Corcoran School of Art, Maryland Institute College of Art, University of Maryland and Carnegie Mellon University.

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