Sam Gilliam

Corcoran Gallery of Art/ Marsha Mateyka Gallery

Sam Gilliam, an innovative abstract painter and éminence grise of Washington, DC’s artistic community, is currently the subject of a stimulating retrospective at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Gilliam is known principally for his giant “draped” paintings and as an African-American artist who gained fame during a period of enormous racial tension. But as Jonathan P. Binstock, the organizer of the exhibtion, demonstrates, the artist has spent more than forty years experimenting with color, shape, and texture, breaking down numerous barriers between painting and sculpture in the process.

Gilliam’s content (like, say, Cy Twombly’s) can be elliptical—a complex and only partially decipherable stream of consciousness—and his application of paint ranges from delicate to brutish. Like Robert Ryman, he is acutely sensitive to relationships between surface and support, luminosity and texture. However,

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