RIP – Ground-Breaking Abstract Artist Sam Gilliam Has Passed Away at Age 88

June 28th, 2022

Sam Gilliam at Mnuchin
Sam Gilliam at Mnuchin, via Art Observed

Artist Sam Gilliam, known for his work in abstraction and for his ground-breaking experimentations in freeing the canvas from the confines of the stretcher, has passed away at the age of 88. Rising to prominence in the late 1960’s from his early work as a school teacher, the artist was known for his dynamic and expressive works, which combined lyrical strokes and painterly movements with three-dimensional arrangements of cloth, which the artist titled “Drapes.”

Growing up in Louisville, Ky., Gilliam trained in the arts during middle school and high school, studying at the University of Louisville before moving to Washington, D.C. in 1962. Developing his painterly voice during the advent of the color field painting movement, Gilliam would embrace the focus on color and space and push its language into sculptural, spatially-arranged works that equally embraced and anticipated the explosion of the abstract expressionist movement. It was this formal experimentation that earned Gilliam ample plaudits in the late 1960’s, catapulting him into the national spotlight.

Sam Gilliam, via Pace
Sam Gilliam, via Pace

“There’s something incredibly important in Sam’s employment of improvisation that continues to influence my generation and beyond,” says artist Rashid Johnson. “It is capable of transcending race but is not limited to not discussing race. For me, he’s been a beacon of light.”

The artist is survived by his second wife, Annie Gawlak, and daughters Stephanie Gilliam, Melissa Gilliam and Leah Franklin Gilliam; three sisters, Lizzie Jane Miller, Lillie Gilliam and Clenteria Carr, and three grandchildren.

Read more:
Sam Gilliam, Abstract Artist of Drape Paintings, Dies at 88 [NYT]