DC artist Sam Gilliam dies at 88

Image Key of Life Award honoree's artist Sam Gilliam during the 40th NAACP Image Awards held at the Shrine Auditorium on February 12, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Vince Bucci/Getty Images for NAACP)
Image Key of Life Award honoree’s artist Sam Gilliam during the 40th NAACP Image Awards held at the Shrine Auditorium on February 12, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Vince Bucci/Getty Images for NAACP)

"From a Model to a Rainbow" was installed in the Takoma Metro Station in 2011. (Courtesy WMATA)
“From a Model to a Rainbow” was installed in the Takoma Metro Station in 2011. (Courtesy WMATA)

Sam Gilliam: Full Circle (on view through Sept. 11) is the artist’s first solo exhibition at the Smithsonian. (Courtesy The Hirshhorn)

A man walks past an artwork by Sam Gilliam titled "untitled" on June 12, 2018 during the preview day of Art Basel, world's largest contemporary art fair in Basel which will take place between June 14 and 17, 2018. (Photo by SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY MENTION OF THE ARTIST UPON PUBLICATION - TO ILLUSTRATE THE EVENT AS SPECIFIED IN THE CAPTION        (Photo credit should read SEBASTIEN BOZON/AFP via Getty Images)
A man walks past an artwork by Sam Gilliam titled “untitled” on June 12, 2018 during the preview day of Art Basel, world’s largest contemporary art fair in Basel which will take place between June 14 and 17, 2018. (Photo credit should read SEBASTIEN BOZON/AFP via Getty Images)

US Secretary of State John Kerry congratulates US artist Sam Gilliam during an Art in Embassies Medal of Arts Award event at the US Department of State January 21, 2015 in Washington, DC. The event was held to honor artists who contribute art work to be displayed in US embassies. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI        (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
US Secretary of State John Kerry congratulates US artist Sam Gilliam during an Art in Embassies Medal of Arts Award event at the US Department of State January 21, 2015 in Washington, DC. The event was held to honor artists who contribute art work to be displayed in US embassies.  (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

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Image Key of Life Award honoree's artist Sam Gilliam during the 40th NAACP Image Awards held at the Shrine Auditorium on February 12, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Vince Bucci/Getty Images for NAACP)
"From a Model to a Rainbow" was installed in the Takoma Metro Station in 2011. (Courtesy WMATA)
A man walks past an artwork by Sam Gilliam titled "untitled" on June 12, 2018 during the preview day of Art Basel, world's largest contemporary art fair in Basel which will take place between June 14 and 17, 2018. (Photo by SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY MENTION OF THE ARTIST UPON PUBLICATION - TO ILLUSTRATE THE EVENT AS SPECIFIED IN THE CAPTION        (Photo credit should read SEBASTIEN BOZON/AFP via Getty Images)
US Secretary of State John Kerry congratulates US artist Sam Gilliam during an Art in Embassies Medal of Arts Award event at the US Department of State January 21, 2015 in Washington, DC. The event was held to honor artists who contribute art work to be displayed in US embassies. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI        (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
WTOP's Jason Fraley remembers Sam Gilliam (Part 1)

Sam Gilliam, an artist with a big impact in D.C., has died at the age of 88.

Gilliam was one of the artists associated with the Washington Color School, which was a movement initiated in D.C. in the 1950s that featured large fields of color as a response to the Abstract Expressionist works that emerged from the New York School, according to a statement from The Pace Gallery.

“Sam Gilliam was one of the giants of Modernism,” said Arne Glimcher, American art dealer and founder of The Pace Gallery. “He was a great friend and great artist who was able to convey the shared torments and triumphs of life through the universal language of abstraction. Sam was very much acclaimed in the 60s and 70s for his revolutionary work that freed the canvas from its support.”

Gilliam was born in Tupelo, Mississippi, in 1933 and became known by the creation of his signature beveled-edge and Drape paintings in the mid- to late 1960s, according to The Pace Gallery.

He folded canvas before staining it with acrylic paint to create dimensional abstractions, which were then stretched across beveled frames, according to the gallery.

(Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images)

He suspended his stained canvases from ceilings and walls and represented the United States at the Venice Biennale in 1972 as part of a group presentation organized by Walter Hopps.

Gilliam’s work can be found in major museum collections around the world including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., the Baltimore Museum of Art; the Art Institute of Chicago, the Menil Collection, Houston, Tate Modern, London, the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark, the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, and many more, according to The Pace Gallery.

A piece of Gilliam’s public artwork is also a part of the D.C. Metro. The huge glass mosaic “From a Model to a Rainbow” was installed at the Takoma Metro Station in 2011.

Just last month, an exhibition of his work opened at the Hirshhorn Museum. “Sam Gilliam: Full Circle” shows Gilliam’s “most recent works in recognition of his indefatigable vision,” the museum said, and are presented “in his chosen hometown” of D.C.

On Monday, Melissa Chiu, director of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, offered a reflection on his passing.

“The Hirshhorn mourns the death of Sam Gilliam, whose unrelenting investigation of color, form and material authored an original visual language,” Chiu said. “Gilliam’s breakthroughs, notably his Drape series, catapulted painting and sculpture traditions rooted in the early Renaissance into the twenty-first century.”

“Sam Gilliam: Full Circle” is on view at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in D.C. through Sept. 11.

WTOP's Jason Fraley remembers Sam Gilliam (Part 2)

Valerie Bonk

Valerie Bonk started working at WTOP in 2016 and has lived in Howard County, Maryland, her entire life. She's thrilled to be a reporter for WTOP telling stories on air. She works as both a television and radio reporter in the Maryland and D.C. areas. 

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