Anselm Kiefer (b. 1945)
These lots have been imported from outside the EU … Read more
Sam Gilliam (b. 1933)


Sam Gilliam (b. 1933)
signed, titled and dated ‘Resting 1972 Sam Gilliam” (on the reverse)
acrylic on canvas
35 7/8 x 75 ¾in. (91.1 x 192.4cm.)
Executed in 1972
Private Collection, Florida.
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Katharine Arnold
Katharine Arnold

Lot Essay

‘I’ve learned to “get rid of rules” ... which is the best form of creation’
–Sam Gilliam

Created in 1972, the same year that Sam Gilliam became the first African- American artist to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale, Resting is a spectacular example of Gilliam’s signature ‘bevelled-edge’ paintings. These revolutionary works, which the artist began making in 1967, were composed by pouring and splashing acrylic paint and pigment directly onto unprimed canvas, which was then folded and crumpled before being stretched over a distinctive chamfered frame. Spanning a majestic two metres in width, and marbled with a glorious array of greens, yellows, oranges, fluorescent pinks and cobalt blues, Resting exemplifies the exuberant colour and monumental scale of the works Gilliam created 1967 and 1973, widely considered the greatest years of his practice. The ‘bevelled-edge’ paintings are closely related to the series of ‘drape paintings’ Gilliam initiated in the same period, which released the canvas from the stretcher frame entirely to interact with their spatial context in radical new ways. Pushing the canvas out from the wall into assertive, three- dimensional presence, the ‘bevelled-edge’ works similarly emphasise their own objecthood. Gilliam blurred the lines between painting and sculpture even as his Minimalist contemporaries such as Donald Judd were seeking to reinforce that same boundary. Moving beyond the ideas of the Washington Colour School – a movement with which artists such as Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland were also associated – he reconceived painting as a performative, theatrical act, and took his medium into thrilling new territory.

While the ‘all-over’ chromatics of Resting might seem to echo the bravura brushwork of Willem de Kooning, for example, or the staining technique of Helen Frankenthaler, the almost neon force of Gilliam’s hues, and the resplendent variety of their form, texture and depth – ‘the more far out the better’, as Gilliam has said – gives his work a unique energy, evoking what he calls ‘the drama of music and the drama of colours coming together’ (T. Loos, ‘At 84, Sam Gilliam Fires Up His Competitive Spirit’, The New York Times, 12 June 2018). There is a dialogue between control and chaos in his pouring and folding technique that lends the work an epressive vigour unmatched by even the ‘drips’ of Jackson Pollock. Gilliam, like many American artists of his era, was deeply inspired by jazz music, and his works are perhaps truer to its improvisatory spirit than any by his Abstract Expressionist contemporaries; Mary Schmidt Campbell has aptly noted that ‘Gilliam’s cascades of colour are not unlike Coltrane’s sheets of sound’ (M. Schmidt Campbell, ‘Sam Gilliam: Journey Toward Red, Black and ‘D’,’ Red & Black to “D”: Paintings by Sam Gilliam, exh. cat. Studio Museum, New York 1982, p. 9).

Gilliam would begin his paintings by soaking the lightest colours, like the yellows and pinks in Resting, into the raw, unprimed canvas before applying the darker pigments. He would then fold and crush the still-wet canvas repeatedly back and forth on itself before leaving it to dry overnight. As it was unfolded, the composition was revealed for the first time, blooming in a maelstrom of pools, vapours and swirling Rorschach-like shapes. ‘I heard a young artist, Peter Bradley, say, in 1971, To kill the hand was my most important move’, recalled Gilliam in a 1973 interview. ‘I realised that years earlier I had thought that way in trying to free myself from the masking tape, the brush; to deal with the canvas as material by folding it, crushing it, using it as a means to a tactile way of making a painting’ (S. Gilliam, quoted in D. Miller, ‘Hanging loose: an interview with Sam Gilliam, Art News, January 1973). Gilliam’s approach to materiality was staggeringly ahead of its time. Almost five decades after it was made, Resting, with its dynamic galaxies of colour and striking, near-sculptural form, looks glowingly contemporary.

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