Sam Gilliam. 10/27/69. 1969

Sam Gilliam 10/27/69 1969

  • Not on view

As an African American artist who remained committed to abstraction during the height of the civil rights movement, Gilliam deliberately worked against the grain. He is best known for unstretched abstract paintings that he drapes from the ceiling, slings over sawhorses, or, as is the case here, pins to the wall. They range from mural-size canvases to a small single sheet hung like a towel on a doorknob.

In this work, the cloth is gathered at three points and nailed to the wall, which allows its shape—two primary folds—to be dictated by gravity. Its complex surface is the result of several different methods of applying paint, including soaking, splattering, and folding the fabric onto itself. The work bears swaths and streaks of peachy oranges and yellows overlaid with violet and red that appear to have been rubbed into the canvas. On the right, purple and indigo shades dominate, offset by a large patch of yellow in the bottom corner.

In his earliest paintings, made in the mid-1960s, Gilliam depicted geometric abstractions on traditionally stretched canvases that resemble those of the Washington Color School painters of the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s, with whom he exhibited. Soon, however, these works gave way to the fluid drips and splatters that came to define his signature draped works. Delineating actual space with their accordion-like folds, much like sculpture, these works invite viewers to consider painting as an immersive experience.

Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)

Gilliam is best known for unstretched abstractions that he drapes from the ceiling, slings over sawhorses, or, as is the case here, pins to the wall. Ranging in size from a small single sheet hung like a towel on a doorknob to mural-sized canvases, Gilliam's "drapes" were reportedly inspired by the artist's observation of laundry hanging outside his window. In this work, the cloth is gathered at three points and nailed to the wall, which allows its shape to be dictated by gravity. Its complex surface is the result of several different methods of applying paint, including stain-soaking, splattering, and folding the fabric onto itself to create a tie-dyed effect.

Gallery label from From the Collection: 1960-69, March 26, 2016 - March 12, 2017.
Medium
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas
Dimensions
140 x 185 x 16" (355.6 x 469.9 x 40.6 cm)
Credit
Sam A. Lewisohn Bequest (by exchange)
Object number
3.2014
Department
Painting and Sculpture

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