A groundbreaking career

UP CLOSE / Sam Gilliam

Visual Arts

September 09, 2005|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN ART CRITIC

Artist Sam Gilliam in the late '60s broke new ground when he stopped stretching his canvases on wooden frames, instead hanging them in loose folds from the wall or ceiling in ways that combined aspects of painting, sculpture and architecture.

Now in his 70s, Gilliam is the subject of a major retrospective at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington. The show, which spans the 1960s to the present, will open Oct. 15.

Gilliam's monumental abstract canvases, with their slashing colors and elaborately folded surfaces, also made him one of the most important artists of the Washington Color School, whose members included Kenneth Noland and Morris Louis. Born in Tupelo, Miss., Gilliam moved to Washington in 1962 and became one of the few African-American painters associated with the movement to achieve wide recognition.

In 1966, he began experimenting with translucent paints poured directly onto the surface of raw, unprimed canvas. These "stain paintings" represented a bold departure from the mostly figurative tradition of earlier African-American art.

Gilliam was also an influential teacher who taught for many years at Baltimore's Maryland Institute College of Art. Today he and his assistants run a large studio in northwest Washington and his artworks are in demand by museums and collectors. For information, call: 202-639-1700 or click on www.corcoran.org.

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