Sam Gilliam - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Thursday, May 19, 2022 | Phillips

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  • Executed in 1997, the present work belongs to Sam Gilliam’s renowned Drape paintings. He first embarked upon these works in the 1960s, under the influence of the Washington Color School artists, who explored a variety of brushless painting techniques to differentiate themselves from the recognized brand of the New York School. Throughout the artist’s celebrated career, Gilliam kept refining the technique of dying these individual sheets of canvas, one which is considered a defining moment in the history of abstract painting. With Blue and..., made roughly thirty years after Gilliam first conceived the idea of the Drape paintings, is a masterful example from the series which showcases his achievement in this format.


    Sam Gilliam with his Drape paintings at the Jefferson Place Gallery in Washington, D.C., 1969. Image: © Frank Johnston/The Washington Post via Getty Images, Artwork: © Sam Gilliam / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    The Drape paintings, with their sinuous curves and deep, billowing folds, variously hang from the ceiling or extend from the wall. They are three-dimensional works, yet Gilliam insists that they are paintings.i By stretching, wrinkling, folding, tying, and sometimes suspending the painted canvases in the air, Gilliam transforms the works into immersive painted environments.ii Indeed, the transformative potential of the Drape paintings is an important criterion for the artist.iii For the hanging Drape paintings in particular, there is no end to the number of possible arrangements when installing the works; with each new installation, the works take on entirely new forms and sizes.


    The present work is a more domestically scaled example featuring all the innovative features of the monumental Drape paintings. The colors, stained into the canvas through Gilliam’s signature soak-stain technique, are bold and exuberant. The folded sections of canvas form pockets of alternating light and shadow, creating a sense of deep, sculptural space that cannot be achieved on a flat canvas. Acquired directly from the artist the year it was made and housed in the same collection ever since, With Blue and... contains all the luster, spontaneity and improvisation of the earliest Drape paintings from the late 1960s, here in mature form.

    i Donald Miller, “Hanging loose: An interview with Sam Gilliam,” ARTNews, January 1973, online
    ii Jonathan P. Binstock, Sam Gilliam: A Retrospective, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 2005, p. 1. 
    iii Ibid., p. 44.

    • Condition Report

    • Description

      View our Conditions of Sale.

    • Provenance

      Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner in 1997

    • Artist Biography

      Sam Gilliam

      American • 1933

      “At Age 84, ‘Living Legend’ Sam Gilliam Is Enjoying His Greatest Renaissance Yet” – so read the headline of a January 2, 2018 artnet article covering the all-time high of Sam Gilliam’s critical and market attention. More than 40 years years since Gilliam became the first African American artist to represent the United States at the Venice Bienniale in 1972, the abstract painter’s career has been catapulted to widespread acclaim. In 2016, a major new commission, Yet I Do Marvel, debuted in the lobby of the highly anticipated National Museum of African American History and Culture in his hometown of Washington, DC, and in 2017 he made his return to the Venice Biennale with his brilliantly colored, unstretched canvas Yves Klein Blue that welcomed visitors to the Giardini’s main pavilion. Most recently, his work has been included in Soul of A Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, the landmark exhibition organized by the Tate Modern, London, that will travel to the Broad Museum in Los Angeles after closing at the Brooklyn Museum in February 2019.

      Gilliam’s innovations from the late 1960s and early 1970s cemented his reputation as one of the most preeminent artists associated with the Washington Color School. Characteristically pushing his medium to its very limits, Gilliam experimented with color, process and materiality like earlier Color Field artists Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland, but took a radically different path in his dismantling of the canvas stretcher. He first rose to fame in the late 1960s with his drape paintings, which came out of his experiments with unsupported canvases – works he said were partly inspired by watching women hang laundry on clotheslines from his studio window in Washington, DC. In 1967, he began creating his slices, or bevelled-edge paintings, which saw him pour paint onto unstretched and unprimed canvases and then fold and crumple the fabric before stretching it on a frame. Since then, he has produced considerable bodies of work, ranging from geometric collage, etchings, watercolors, and quilted paintings to more recent forays into computer generated images and assemblage.

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With Blue and...

signed, titled and dated "With Blue and, 1997 Sam Gilliam" on the reverse of the larger element
acrylic on draped sewn canvas, in 2 parts
installation dimensions variable
approximately 78 x 48 in. (198.1 x 121.9 cm)

Executed in 1997.

Full Cataloguing

$200,000 - 300,000 

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Annie Dolan
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20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 19 May 2022