February 23, 2014


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Lot 192: Sam Gilliam

Lot 192: Sam Gilliam


Acrylic on canvas
Signed, dated, and titled verso
Canvas: 21.75" x 57.5"; Frame: 23" x 59"
Together with original receipt, Sam Gilliam 1982 exhibition invitation, and 1990 exhibition catalogue
Provenance: Jefferson Place Gallery, Washington, DC;
Private Collection, Maryland, United States (acquired directly from the above, 1974);
Thence by descent
Estimate: $5,000 - $8,000
Price Realized: $56,250
Inventory Id: 9191

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In 1968, Sam Gilliam was the first recognized artist to stop using canvas stretchers as a means of reinforcement in favor of the solitary, painted, raw surface – a work on canvas independent of archetypal supports. His groundbreaking "drape paintings" from the mid-to-late 1960s are unique in their exploration of the canvas as a sculptural form and its critical relationship to the surrounding space. A pivotal player in the small, but formidable Washington Color School Movement, Gilliam had withdrawn to his studio in the late 1960s to paint, building up a catalogue of works that blurred the lines of Lyrical Abstraction and Color Field Painting. By the early 1970s, Gilliam had further explored different ways of manipulating the structure and dimensional aspects of a painted surface.

Inspired by Ron Davis' resin and fiberglass works from the early 70s (when installed, these works floated off gallery walls), Gilliam was determined to work with beveled canvas stretchers to facilitate the idea of the painting as a dimensional object. In a 1989 interview, Gilliam explains, "The beveled thick stretcher that made the painting an object at the same time and also made it more so of a volume." The beveled edges of Live (1972) force the perimeter of the painted surface to fall away from the viewer, giving the illusion that the painted image is materializing out of the wall and into the viewer's space. Small bursts of yellow wallow in eruptions of red paint splashed all over the surface. The vivid, primary color palette is reminiscent of fellow painter Kenneth Noland, with an approach to the canvas reminiscent of Paul Jenkins' or Jackson Pollack's drips. Supported along the way by gallerist, museum director, and curator Walter Hopps, Gilliam was able to exhibit at major museums such as the Phillips Collection and the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Works from this period reside in the permanent collections of the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, and the Renwick Gallery at the Smithsonian.

"Oral History Interview with Sam Gilliam, 1989 Nov. 4-11." Interview by Benjamin Forgey. Oral Histories Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Archives of American Art, n.d. Web. 12 Jan. 2014.