Sam Gilliam’s experimentations with paint in the 1950s and ‘60s opened doors to new possibilities within the innovative realm of abstraction. Inspired by a group of color-field painters who were active in Washington, DC, where he moved in 1962, Gilliam explored the materiality of the painted surface in his own way.

In the late 1960s, Gilliam began to pour paint directly onto unstretched canvas, which he would then fold or crumple while the paint was still wet and leave on the studio floor to dry. The creases allowed the paint to pool and duplicate, forming lines and patterns determined by the natural pliability of canvas and fluidity of paint—and by an element of chance. Blurring the line between painted image and object, these works subvert the distinction between painting and sculpture.

This installation includes examples of Gilliam's early body of work, as well as one painting from Gilliam’s series of Black paintings, a further innovation in the artist’s career. In these heavily layered works, Gilliam raked a thick black paint over a brightly stained canvas, creating tension through colors revealed and concealed by the dark, stucco-like surface. The thickness of the paint emphasizes the physicality of the work, as do the collaged strips of cut canvas—another of Gilliam’s experiments with materials.