HONG KONG.- Pace
is presenting an exhibition of Sam Gilliams paintings in Hong Kong. Following its launch at Paces newly expanded space in Seoul, this presentation continues to mark the artists debut in Asia. The Hong Kong exhibition, which opened at Paces space in the H Queens building on July 22, features new works by Gilliam.
Gilliam, who is now in his eighties, is widely considered one of the great innovators in postwar American painting. He emerged from the Washington, D.C. scene in the mid-1960s with works that elaborated upon and disrupted the ethos of Color Field painting and expanded the frontiers of Abstract Expressionism. A noted activist and aficionado of American jazz music, Gilliam extended the possibilities of picture making in a society undergoing dramatic change.
All of the paintings in the exhibition were created by the artist in 2021. These pieces build on a body of beveled edge abstract paintings that Gilliam has been continuously developing since the 1960s. Gilliams early approach to painting built upon the staining technique that was adopted by Washington School colorists in the late 1950s and early 60s, including Helen Frankenthaler, Morris Louis, and Kenneth Noland. At this time, Gilliam began experimenting with different techniques and materials, staining and pouring paint and other materials directly onto the canvas while folding and crumpling its wet surface to create variegated compositions with luminous color and depth.
In 1966 he began to work with acrylic on unprimed canvases, later stretched on specially made beveled edge frames. The beveled frame often as deep as six inches offered an illusion of flatness that disguised the physical depth of each work. The paintings appeared to float, or emerge from the wall itself, creating a three dimensional relationship beyond the surface of the canvas. Gilliams early beveled edge canvases explored the phenomenology of space through painterly means. During this same period of radical experimentation, Gilliam also began to work with draped or freely suspended canvases. Extending the dynamic presence of radiant polychromic color fields into the gallery, the Drape paintings marked a groundbreaking moment in the history of American abstract art and deepened Gilliams exploration of dimensionality.
The new paintings on view in this exhibition reflect Gilliams ongoing experimentation with beveled edge canvases. With acute attention to surface, alchemy and volume, these paintings offer a rich constellation of texture, materials, and sublime composition. Gilliams approach to abstract expression is profound and energetic, often involving folding, soaking, and staining the canvas before applying thick layers of paint mixed with materials such as pure pigment, sawdust, tin shot and other detritus from the studio floor. Using rakes, steel brushes and other tools, Gilliam then exposes layers of color glowing below like fire coming through volcanic ash.
In his most recent work, Gilliam has made radical changes with the introduction of new materials and techniques. In his layering process, he builds up surfaces by draping thin pieces of fabric on top of the collage and debris. Like an archaeologist, he then digs into the surfaces to reveal layers of color glowing below like fire coming through volcanic ash. Always an alchemist, Gilliams paintings take us to a new concept of space as form.
The dizzying magic of Gilliams paintings is the result of chance and response, as much as design. Dexterously reacting to the movement of paint and the compositions that emerge at every stage in his process, Gilliam likens his approach to abstraction to the improvisational tenets of jazz music, a grounding presence in the artists life and a strong influence on his creative output. He cites jazz saxophonist John Coltrane as an influence on his approach to painting: Its time that matters: listening and realizing what happened with the music, my experience of sound established these references in painting. 1
1 Interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist, Sam Gilliam: Existed Existing, 2020, page 47.