MAY 25–SEP 11, 2022
In the 60 years since moving to Washington, DC, Sam Gilliam has produced a prolific body of abstraction across media through which he has continually pursued new avenues of artistic expression. He initially rose to prominence in the late 1960s making large, color-stained manipulated, unstretched canvases. Gilliam continues to experiment with staining, soaking and pouring pigments, elaborating on the process-oriented tradition of Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland and other Washington Color School artists. In 1972, Gilliam represented the United States at the 36th Venice Biennale, and returned in 2017 with “Yves Klein Blue,” a draped work that welcomed visitors to the Venice Giardini. Gilliam’s approach focuses keenly on the cornerstones of abstraction—form, color and material—from which he creates artworks that reflect his career-long engagement with art history and the improvisatory ethos of jazz. Full Circle shows Gilliam’s most recent works in recognition of his indefatigable vision, presented in his chosen hometown on the National Mall at the national museum of modern art.
This exhibition reflects Gilliam’s tireless propulsion of the through lines of abstraction. His new round paintings (or tondos) expand the body of beveled-edge abstract paintings that Gilliam first pioneered in the 1960s. Ranging in size from 3 to 5 feet in diameter, each tondo begins with a beveled wood panel, which the artist loads with layers of dense, vibrant pigments, their aggregate effect heightened through the addition of thickening agents, sawdust, shimmering metal fragments, wood scraps and other studio debris. Using a stiff metal rake along with more traditional tools, Gilliam then abrades, smears and scrapes the coarse surfaces to reveal a constellation of textures and colors below.
Gilliam’s 2021 works will be shown alongside “Rail” (1977), a stellar “Black” painting by Gilliam in the Hirshhorn’s collection marks some of the artist’s earliest experiments with pronounced materiality. With its immense scale of more than 15 feet in length, stained underpinning, pieced canvas structure and deep tones, “Rail” offers a resonant counterpoint.
“I am greatly looking forward to premiering this new body of work,” Gilliam said. “The tondo series introduced in this show encapsulate many of the ideas that I have been developing throughout my career. Just as importantly, they reflect my current thinking about color, materials, and space. These spaces determined by color and texture are limitless.”
Sam Gilliam: Full Circle is organized by Head Curator Evelyn Hankins.