Sam Gilliam, an abstract artist who was known for his use of draped canvas, has died at the age of 88. The galleries that represented him made a joint statement Monday.
"Sam Gilliam is one of the giants in Modernism. "He was a great friend, great artist, who was able convey the shared triumphs and torments of life through abstract language," Arne Glacher, the owner and director of the gallery that represented Gilliam said in the statement.
According to the statement, Gilliam was born in Tupelo (Mississippi) in 1933. As a leader of the Washington Color School, Gilliam made his debut in Washington, D.C., in the art world. He began to create his signature work in the 1960s: stained, draped canvas that were suspended from ceilings or walls.
Gilliam suspended his stained canvases from ceilings or walls. This transformed the medium of painting as well as its relationship to the architectural and spatial contexts in which they are viewed," said the statement, claiming that his work "changed art history."
This statement highlighted the influence of the social revolution on Gilliam's work. David Kordansky (one of Gilliam’s representatives) stated in a statement, "It is not an accident that Sam's breakthroughs occurred during the heights of the civil rights movement." He insisted that art, no matter how abstract or difficult to understand, be the primary way for artists to engage with the world.
According to the joint statement, Gilliam once stated that 1968 was a year of revelation and determination. "Something was in my air, and it was in this spirit that I did Drape paintings."
According to The New York Times, he was the first Black artist in 1972 to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale. This international cultural exhibition is open to all cultures.
The statement stated that he continued to innovate over the years, including new textures, forms and materials, such as thick acrylic paint with geometric and abstract shapes, large paintings on wood and paper, and large acrylic paints in thicker, more durable colors. His works can be found in many major museums around the globe, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Tate Modern, London and the Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, France.
"I feel deeply honored and blessed to be able to know Sam Gilliam over the past ten years of his journey. Kordansky stated in the joint statement that serving his vision was a life-defining privilege. It has been more than just work or passion. It is a form devotion to principles that are good, abiding and true. Sam was a kind teacher, friend, mentor, and mischievous friend who changed my life. Sam was a living example of freedom, achieved through fearlessness, ferocity and sensitivity.
Kordansky stated that Gilliam is survived his wife Annie and his three children, Stephanie Franklin, Melissa Franklin, and Leah Franklin.