Sam Gilliam (1933-2022, Mississippi) is known for his illustrious draped paintings that line the ceilings and walls of galleries and homes around the world. His works simultaneously draw upon and contest the ethos of the Washington Color School movement, translating two-dimensional Abstract Expressionist painting to a sculptural plane. Gilliam’s process of taping, folding and creasing unstretched canvases followed by pouring pigments produced luminous veils of color that can be installed a multitude of ways. Inspired by the improvisatory nature of jazz, Gilliam’s oeuvre is expressive in color and dynamic in form. 


Gilliam received his formal art education at the University of Louisville, earning a BFA and MFA in painting. He then moved to Washington, D.C, where he became a leader in the capital city’s influential school of Color Field painting. Gilliam received numerous awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Medal of Art from the U.S. State Department. Today, his works are found in numerous public collections, including the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Tate Modern (London) and the Museum of Modern Art (New York).


Related Works

  • Like Sam Gilliam, abstract painters Helen Frankenthaler and Sam Francis used innovative techniques and aesthetics to disrupt the reigning paradigms of the Abstract Expressionist movement.
  • Sam Gilliam transforms spaces by suspending and draping canvases. Ghanaian artist El Anatsui takes a similar approach to installing his large-scale tapestries made from salvaged metals and wire. View his work.