Sam Gilliam: Thinking Outside the Frame
August 21, 2008
Sam Gilliam is represented in the current exhibition, Local Color, but there's another painting of his on display nearby. Swing is representative of the artist's canvases that were not stretched, but draped and suspended from the ceiling and adjoining walls. It is a color field painting, except the artist has changed the playing field: it's the same thirsty canvas that soaked up stain and pigment, but it's been folded and draped at various tension points and has been given a shape as it's suspended in air so we can imagine it moving in the rhythms suggested by its title. Swing is also a reference to jazz and the music Gilliam listened to while he painted.
Gilliam was born in Mississippi but moved to Washington, D.C. in the 1960s. By 1969, the year Swing was composed, D.C. had been torn apart by riots and the word assassination had become heard all too frequently. That summer man first walked on the moon. The earth seemed a place of terror and turmoil, but there was a whole new world to explore. Why walk on the earth when you can take slow, giant steps on the surface of the moon? Why look at painting in the same old way if the world suddenly felt like it had been turned on its head?
Change was everywhere. I think of this painting as both an homage and a protest, and out of Gilliam's dual motives came a new way of seeing things. It's still color field, all right, but it's the painting as a three dimensional work of art.
Both Gilliam and fellow artist Paul Reed (whose work is also part of Local Color) have helped to shape the local art scene for many years. On August 23 both of them will be speaking at SAAM along with critic Benjamin Forgey. It will be a great opportunity to learn about the local art scene and the city that inspired the color field artists. In addition, it could be the perfect time to learn more about his decision to "think outside the frame."
Related Information: Video interview with Sam Gilliam
That's an interesting way to add depth to color field. Thank you for letting us know about Sam Gilliam's work and for also providing the link to the video. The video allowed me to see how much texture he incorporates in his work.
Posted by: Robert | Aug 27, 2008
It seems SWING could be displayed any number of ways that would affect the viewer's experience.
Did the artist provide instructions on how SWING is to be displayed? How detailed are those instructions and in what form? Written, sketch, photograph?
Posted by: Doug | Aug 27, 2008
Doug, we forwarded your question to Virginia Mecklenburg, senior curator at SAAM, who said:
"We had the best instructions of all! The artist lent us slides of the original installation of the piece and was kind enough to come over to show us how it should be installed. He has come over from time to time since it first went up to make adjustments, since the dropcloth-like fabric is fairly heavy, so subject to the pull of gravity."
Doug, I hope that answers your question. Thanks again for contacting us.
Posted by: Howard Kaplan | Sep 2, 2008
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