United States: Death of Sam Gilliam, African-American portrait of abstract painting


Sam Gilliam, an African-American painter, is best known for his colorful canvases that are usually attached to frames.

On June 12, 2018, shortly before Art Basel, a man walks in front of a work by Sam Gilliam.

On June 12, 2018, shortly before Art Basel, a man walks in front of a work by Sam Gilliam.


African-American abstract painter Sam Gilliam, who died at the age of 88 on Saturday after freeing frames from which colorful canvases are usually attached, announced on Monday that two galleries had collaborated with him.

The artist, born in Mississippi in 1933 and the first African-American to represent the United States at the Venice Final in 1972, died at his home in Washington, D.C., of kidney failure, according to the “New York Times”.

“Sam Gilliam is one of the giants of modernity,” Arne Klimser, founder of Base Gallery, was quoted as saying in a statement. “Sam expressed a vital sense of freedom, achieved with courage, ferocity, empathy and poetry,” said David Gordansky in the gallery of the same name.


It was not until the late 1960s that Sam Gilliam drew his own color patterns on already folded canvases, before he spread them out, completely removing his canvases from the wood and creating some of his iconic works called “Drapes”. They allow it to fall freely from the ceiling or walls.

“These revolutionary works (…) have changed the history of art,” the galleryists write. “Gilliam changed the medium of painting and its relationship to the spatial and architectural context in which it is viewed.”

The artist explained that “1968 was the year of revelation and confirmation”, quoted in the press release. “Something was floating in the air, and it was in that spirit that I drew the curtains.” Three of these paintings are currently on display at the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris as part of the “La Couleur en fugue” exhibition until August 29, 2022.


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