Browse Lots

Global notice COVID-19 Important notice
Sam Gilliam (b. 1933)
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more Property from a Washington D.C. Collection
Sam Gilliam (b. 1933)

Pac

Details
Sam Gilliam (b. 1933)
Pac
signed, titled and dated 'PAC 1970 Sam Gilliam' (on the reverse); titled again and dated again 'PAC 1970' (on the overlap)
acrylic on canvas
106 x 132 x 2 ½ in. (269.4 x 335.3 x 8.9 cm.)
Executed in 1970.
Provenance
Fendrick Gallery, Washington, D.C.
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1978
Special notice

On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. Where Christie's has provided a Minimum Price Guarantee it is at risk of making a loss, which can be significant, if the lot fails to sell. Christie's therefore sometimes chooses to share that risk with a third party. In such cases the third party agrees prior to the auction to place an irrevocable written bid on the lot. The third party is therefore committed to bidding on the lot and, even if there are no other bids, buying the lot at the level of the written bid unless there are any higher bids. In doing so, the third party takes on all or part of the risk of the lot not being sold. If the lot is not sold, the third party may incur a loss. The third party will be remunerated in exchange for accepting this risk based on a fixed fee if the third party is the successful bidder or on the final hammer price in the event that the third party is not the successful bidder. The third party may also bid for the lot above the written bid. Where it does so, and is the successful bidder, the fixed fee for taking on the guarantee risk may be netted against the final purchase price.

Third party guarantors are required by us to disclose to anyone they are advising their financial interest in any lots they are guaranteeing. However, for the avoidance of any doubt, if you are advised by or bidding through an agent on a lot identified as being subject to a third party guarantee you should always ask your agent to confirm whether or not he or she has a financial interest in relation to the lot.

Brought to you by

Rachael White
Rachael White

Lot Essay

Recognized as a revolutionary figure of Twentieth Century Post-War art, Sam Gilliam has helped define the radical and influential Washington Color School movement. Pac, painted in 1970, serves as an exquisite example of how he pushed the very genre of Color Field painting to an unbridled extreme. Created at the turn of the decade, two years before Gilliam would become the first American artist to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale, Pac is a spectacular example of Gilliam’s signature ‘beveled-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 almost nine feet wide, and marbled with a glorious array of greens, blues, purples, pinks and reds, Pac exemplifies the exuberant color and monumental scale of the works Gilliam created between 1967 and 1973, widely considered the greatest years of his practice. The ‘beveled-edge’ paintings are closely related to the series of ‘drape paintings’ Gilliam created 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 ‘beveled-edge’ works similarly emphasize 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 Color 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.
The expansive composition is comprised of vertical bands, each with varying concentrations of pigment, which result in a rich display of overlapping translucent chroma. The ‘all-over’ chromatics of Pac seem to echo the bravura brushwork of Willem de Kooning, as well as 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 stated – gives his work a unique energy, evoking what he calls ‘the drama of music and the drama of colors coming together’ (T. Loos, ‘At 84, Sam Gilliam Fires Up His Competitive Spirit’, The New York Times, June 12 2018). There is a dialogue between control and chaos in his pouring and folding technique that lends the work an expressive vigor unmatched by even the ‘drips’ of Jackson Pollock. This rich and variegated surface is the result of the artist repeatedly folding the canvas while the paint is still wet, allowing the colors and geometries to dissolve into each other. Gilliam would begin the process by soaking the lightest colors of the composition, like the tans and pinks in the present work, into the raw, unprimed canvas before applying the darker greens, reds and blues. He would then fold the canvas repeatedly back and forth on itself before leaving it to dry overnight. As they were unfolded, the evocative abstract forms were revealed for the first time, appearing like mysterious Rorschach-like forms embedded directly into the canvas.
Coming of age during the social and political instability of the 1960s, Gilliam was interested in disrupting the traditional distinctions between art, architecture and sculpture, in addition to investigating the properties of physically combining his chosen medium and support. After time in the army, years of teaching, and meeting the Washington, D.C. Color Field artists, Gilliam realized that while his training was essential, it was not entirely representative of his lived experience. “Ideas I was dealing with were mostly someone else’s. …What was most personal to me were the things I saw in my own environment—such as clotheslines filled with clothes with so much weight that they had to be propped up…” (Sam Gilliam quoted in D. Miller, “Hanging Loose: An Interview with Sam Gilliam,” January 1973). Thus, he began to work with different types of non-traditional canvas, such as the beveled example of the present work, or his draped canvas—unstretched, unsupported works folding in on themselves after being saturated in luminous hues and hung from gallery walls. Such a convention drove the liberating ideas of Color Field to their natural, if unseen, conclusion: if the image could be obliterated, so too could its structure.
Together with his Abstract Expressionist counterparts, Gilliam’s innovations with paint application and his radical transformation of the canvas support continuously expanded the possibilities for the future of abstract painting. Gilliam expanded and elaborated upon existing Color Field processes and aesthetics while turning on its heading the Greenbergian notions of the “integrity of the picture plane,” in addition to disrupting the boundaries between the visual world of painting and the tangible world outside it. Particularly during an era when African American artists were expected by many to create figurative work explicitly addressing racial subject matter, Gilliam insisted on pursuing the development of a new formal language that celebrated the cultivation and expression of the individual voice and the power of nonobjective art to transcend cultural and political boundaries.

More from Post-War and Contemporary Art Morning Session

View All
View All