Purpled (Primary Title)
Chasers (Series Title)

Sam Gilliam, American, 1933–2022 (Artist)

Acrylic on canvas
United States
Unframed: 80 × 90 × 4 3/4 in. (203.2 × 228.6 × 12.07 cm)
Not on view

The art of Sam Gilliam is a pure expression of his pioneering and defiant spirit. For Gilliam, experimentation is the only consistent element throughout his artistic career, which has resulted in a body of work that presents an ongoing exploration of paint, texture, and shape. Like artist James Little, Gilliam is fascinated with the physicality of painting. Here, Gilliam blurs the line between painting and sculpture. He draws upon the African American quilt pattern “Flying Geese” and repositions it from within a modernist visual language. Like the work of African American quilters, Gilliam’s Purpled emphasizes this concept of capturing the expressive within the static form.

As an artist working in abstraction, Gilliam has defied the categorization. While aligned with Washington Color Field, the artist has embraced chance, experimentation, and African American traditions in this work. Gilliam would be aware of quilts from his upbringing in Kentucky. The irregular geometry, asymmetrical designs, and segmented patchwork echo the improvisation found in both music and the visual arts. Gilliam’s use of shifting textures and pops of bright color, outlined by an uneven edge, creates tension in the work found in the quilt pattern he references.

Gift of an Anonymous Donor
2021: "The Dirty South: Contemporary Art, Material Culture, and the Sonic Impulse", VMFA, May 22 - September 6, 2021

2003: Generations: African American Art in the VMFA Collection

1983: "Sam Gilliam", (Modern Painters at the Corcoran series), Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, March 24 - May 22, 1983
© Sam Gilliam

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