Sam Gilliam (born 1933) is an African-American artist known for his illustrious draped paintings that line the ceilings and walls of galleries around the world. His works simultaneously drew upon and contested the ethos of the Washington Color School movement, translating two dimensional abstract expressionist painting to a sculptural plane. His process of taping, folding and creasing unstretched canvases and then pouring the pigments created luminous veils of color that could be draped and rearranged a multitude of ways. His first solo exhibition in Europe titled “The Music of Color” at the Kunstmuseum Basel showcases his most radical work that expands the defining principles of Post-War American art. Gilliam draws inspiration from the improvisatory nature of jazz to create work that is expressive in color and dynamic in 



Gilliam grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, where he attended the University of Louisville, earning a master’s degree in 1961. He taught for four years before moving to Washington D.C., where he currently lives and works, creating monumental sculptures as well as two-dimensional prints. In D.C. he became associated with the Capital’s influential school of color field painting, and is internationally recognized as the foremost contemporary African American color field painter. On being a teacher and a painter, he says, "I am a better artist today in that I am obviously a better teacher. Whether I am teaching or making art, the process is fundamentally the same: I am creating." 


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.