Portrait of Sam Gilliam, pencil on paper by Phong Bui. Based on a photograph by Fredrik Nilsen Studio.


The Brooklyn Rail Interviews Sam Gilliam

by Tom McGlynn

September 4, 2019

At its very core, the intrinsic value of art—which can be disruptive, unpredictable, and at the very least challenging—has tremendous transformative and healing incentives.

Whether it occurs at the first encounter or over time, the implications for the viewer, be they formal or emotional, are simultaneously simple and complex, generous and demanding. Eluding easy categorizations has been at times disadvantageous to Sam Gilliam’s consistent visibility, perhaps due as much to our social and political context as to changes in aesthetic or taste.

Gilliam has always done one thing throughout his career: be perpetually subversive by constantly erupting the delineating line that divides the visual world of painting from the world outside. By persisting in his pursuit of endless possibilities in expanding the language of abstraction, in his hand, the idiom of the so-called soak-stain technique and Color Field painting have been liberated into the realm of true invention and pleasure. On the occasion of Gilliam’s two exhibits, Sam Gilliam: New Works on Paper at the FLAG Art Foundation and Sam Gilliam (early works from the 1960s and 1970s) on long-term view at Dia:Beacon, as well as joining Pace Gallery as his New York representation, The Brooklyn Rail's editor-at-large Tom McGlynn took a trip to visit the artist at his home/studio in Washington, D.C.

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Art comes from the idea of inversion, from the change you want to make to what you see and wherever you find it.

Sam Gilliam

  • News — The Brooklyn Rail Interviews Sam Gilliam, Sep 4, 2019