Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Sam Gilliam -- fun with canvas

On a recent visit to the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, I saw a new piece by Sam Gilliam, the great Color Field painter who grew up in Louisville.  To clarify, it's new to the museum but made in 1968, at a critical time in Gilliam's career.  He was just on the verge of liberating canvas from the stretcher bars, as in this big draped work from the following year.

Sam Gilliam, Swing, 1969

But I'm ahead of myself.  In 1968, when he made "Restore," he was only halfway there.  Yes, he ended up with the canvas on a stretcher, but he started with it loose, and in fact painted it in a manner that is familiar to many of us fiber artists who manipulate fabric in dye.

Sam Gilliam, Restore, 1968

The wall sign at the Speed says:  "Building on his earlier experiments with folding rice paper, Gilliam applied color by pouring paint onto a sheet of unprimed, unstretched canvas, which was then folded in various places while the paint was wet.  Additional paint was applied as the artist continued to fold and refold the canvas, creating a layering of several surfaces.  Paint mixed with aluminum powder was applied at the end."

Because of the folding, the painting ended up with surface texture impossible to achieve working on an easel (unless you pressed another piece of canvas into the wet paint).

Definitely good enough to eat.


  1. Beautiful work. Please share with us the reviews Gilliam received at the time he first presented this work.

  2. I love these!! Now I need to research Gilliam. I must say the one thing I don't like about living in a very small town is the lack of art, museums, and even books on art at the library. So thanks for the introduction.

  3. Terry - wish I could see what was written at the time (as I always do when I read about work that in retrospect marked important turning points). I don't even know where the painting had been for the 42 years before the Speed bought it. I'll try to do some research and keep you posted.

  4. I love this piece. Yes, it is delicious.

  5. I first found out about Sam Gilliam only a few months ago and when I googled his name I was so amazed by the art which he created in the 60s. I've since added him to muy favorite artists list. His work is incredible I think! Thanks for getting the word out about him.