September 22, 2023


How Art Works

Sam Gilliam: Black and White Work 1975-1977 at David Kordansky Gallery

5 min read

Assessment by Christopher J. Graham, visitor contributor

Untitled, 1975, acrylic on canvas, 32 3/4 x 32 3/4 x 2 inches, courtesy of David Kordansky Gallery

David Kordansky Gallery’s exhibition (link to the online exhibition) of the late Sam Gilliam exhibits the artist’s relationship to materials exploration and shows a selected interval in his prolific output. This present encompasses a shift away from the acrylic-dyed draped canvases that made the Washington DC painter well-known. It focuses as a substitute on Miles Davis-influenced, stretched works that embody giant quantities of paint build-up and directional zips on the image airplane.

A small canvas, Untitled (1975), featured a floor divided into equal quarters. On the untreated floor, a peach-y-hued coloration permeates the floor, establishing a coloration subject. This peach-y-hued coloration is seen in a lot of what I consider are thought-about the white work.

Untitled creates a setting by which the viewer can develop into acquainted with a microcosm of the painterly phrases discovered within the present, which embody stained canvas, all-over house, zips, collage, and rhythm. Untitled, like all of the work within the present, options beveled canvas stretcher bars.

The bevels present a sculptural aspect, maybe a bit self-consciously, however along with this, in addition they push the portray into the viewer’s house, into the gallery. That is price noting compared to Gilliam’s drape work which floated a notion of envelopment; the beveled stretchers mark a transparent distinction between the portray and the wall.

Double River, 1976, acrylic on canvas with collage, 90 1/2 x 181 x 3 inches, courtesy of David Kordansky Gallery


Double River, element

This distinction is echoed in Double River (1976), a 19-foot-wide portray with a large vertical band near-center on the canvas. The peach coloration beforehand described in Untitled covers the floor, intertwining with giant dabs of white paint that creates an impasto floor. A curious second within the portray is the darkish waxy materials course all through the canvas. The darkened umber passages are welcome threads towards the blues, pinks, and yellows that seem like a lot of the work’s focus.

The asymmetry of Double River’s heavy zip creates a division simply left-of-center on the image airplane, selling an enfolding on this house. The enfolding established by this zip forces the viewer to cope with their particular place whereas viewing the piece.

For Brass, 1976, acrylic on canvas, 62 3/8 x 84 3/8 inches, courtesy of David Kordansky Gallery

Double River’s horizontal expanse is echoed in For Brass (1976) which options three zips working the middle size of the canvas. These zips create a notion of fast left-to-right/right-to-left motion throughout the canvas. The third quadrant from the underside of the work accommodates a subject by which the colours flip from heat oranges and reds to inexperienced. Within the piece, Gilliam lays cool grays throughout the foreground, which each impede and intensify popping oranges and reds discovered within the portray. These hotter colours sign a depth within the canvas, pulling the viewer towards the bottom.

A lot of the writing surrounding this era of Gilliam’s output mentions the affect that Miles Davis and John Coltrane had on his work. This turns into obvious when taking within the work with the laborious bop rhythm of Milestones-period Davis in thoughts. This rhythmic focus is discovered within the staggered zips of Weighed Anchor (1976), the place the viewer can skip throughout a vertical floor. The impact of this composition comes throughout as a stuttering, a staccato word change, which contrasts with a vamping floor.

Abacus Sliding, 1977, acrylic on canvas, 90 1/4 x 120 1/2 x 1 3/4 inches, courtesy of David Kordansky Gallery

Abacus Sliding (1977), has a nondescript rectangular form manufactured from canvas collage that begins to take the type of a spiral. The middle rectangular spiral attracts the viewer nearer. The final word impact of Abacus is deceptive; as soon as the viewer is shut sufficient, they’re confronted with the multicolored canvas floor. This floor instigates a scale shift inside the composition. The foreground’s black paint turns into a floor on which the view the speckled chromatic shifts of vibrant yellows, child blues, and lime greens.

With its heat and deep radiance, Abacus Sliding feels probably the most associated to the artist’s earlier work. The place it diverges is its use of the collaged canvas to determine a focus for the viewer. Articulating this guidepost for the viewer’s profit is intriguing when contemplating the decrease left nook of the piece, the place a rusty crimson meets an ochre contrasting closely with a lightweight blue. Cluttering the decrease left of the work with passages of sturdy coloration permits the decrease proper to develop into a reprieve from density. The multicolored floor acts as a slight framing machine. When seen with these observations in thoughts, it’s revealed that Abacus Sliding depends on these structural components to arrange its composition.

Earth Factor, 1977, oil on canvas, 60 x 84 1/2 x 2 3/8 inches, courtesy of David Kordansky Gallery


Earth Factor (1977) acts as a bridge between the lighter works within the present and the moody Abacus Sliding. With its personal focus, the piece prominently encompasses a broad, largely black rectangle within the decrease heart of the composition. Whereas this form causes a grounding impact, there’s a frenetic high quality in Earth Factor not discovered within the different works within the present. Impasto grays and purples are massaged into place and left to crack when dry. These dry chunks of paint are ceaselessly interrupted by finger-sized smears giving the portray a tumbling movement. Even the grounding rectangle within the heart of the work, which shifts to disclose a Prussian blue undertone, is damaged two-thirds throughout, suggesting a triangle. Earth Factor means that the one true grounding terrain is perpetual movement and fixed change.


David Kordanksy Gallery’s exhibition of Sam Gilliam’s Black and White work showcases a singular second within the artist’s profession. Fueled by summary painterly phrases and laborious bop jazz, the 1975-1977 works featured on this exhibition present Gilliam utilizing a decreased coloration palette in a manner he wouldn’t do once more. It is a superb tribute to an artist whose contributions to portray proceed to ripple out in modern discourse.

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