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Sam Gilliam

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Information about Sam Gilliam

Profile image of Sam Gilliam

Profession

Category:
ArtMakers
Occupation(s):
Painter

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Purple
Favorite Food:
Sardines
Favorite Time of Year:
November
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Home
Favorite Quote:
Yes.

Birthplace

Born:
11/30/1933
Birth Location:
Tupelo, Mississippi

Profession

Category:
ArtMakers
Occupation(s):
Painter

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Purple
Favorite Food:
Sardines
Favorite Time of Year:
November
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Home
Favorite Quote:
Yes.

Birthplace

Born:
11/30/1933
Birth Location:
Tupelo
See how Sam Gilliam is related to other HistoryMakers

Biography

The career of painter Sam Gilliam has spanned decades and mediums, using paint, draped canvas and plastics to help influence numerous schools of art. Sam Gilliam, Jr., was born on November 30, 1933, in Tupelo, Mississippi, to Sam, a railroad worker and Estery, a maternal engineer. The seventh of eight children, Gilliam and his family moved to Louisville, Kentucky, shortly after he was born. As a child, Gilliam always enjoyed painting and was actively encouraged by his teachers.

In 1951, Gilliam graduated from Central High School and attended the University of Louisville. In 1955, he received his B.A. degree in fine art, and also held his first solo art exhibition. Gilliam entered the U.S. Army in 1956 and served for two years. Following his discharge, he returned to the University of Louisville. After three years of graduate school, Gilliam received his M.A. degree in painting in 1961. On September 1, 1962, Gilliam married Washington Post reporter Dorothy Butler in Louisville, and shortly thereafter moved to Washington, D.C.

In 1963, artist Thomas Downing introduced Gilliam to the Washington Color School, which was defined by bold colors. Two years later, Gilliam contributed his own innovation to the school by displaying unframed painted canvases, which allowed the work to flow naturally with the architecture of the display space. In 1971, Gilliam boycotted a show at the Whitney Art Museum in New York City in solidarity with the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition, in criticism that the museum did not consult black art experts in the selection of artists.

In 1973, Gilliam created for the San Francisco Museum of Art the free-standing piece Autumn Surf , which consisted of acrylic sheeting hung over wooden support beams to give the impression of waves. By 1975, he had moved away from draped canvases to geometric collages, most notably the Black Paintings and the White Collage Paintings. Also, in 1975, Gilliam created Seahorses, his first outdoor piece, for the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In 1983, Gilliam was featured in his first major retrospective at the Corcoran Art Gallery in Washington, D.C. In the new millennium, Gilliam has continued to work with birch plywood and metal forms as structural elements. Though his work is featured in galleries throughout the world and he is a self-sustaining artist, Gilliam is committed to teaching youth the foundations of art and has worked in numerous facilities including Washington, D.C., Public Schools, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Maryland.

Gilliam has received honorary degrees from Northwestern University and the University of Louisville; a Norman W. Harris Prize from the Art Institute of Chicago; two National Endowment of the Arts Awards; and a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Gilliam’s studio is located in the historic Shaw neighborhood in Washington, D.C. He and his ex-wife have three daughters (Stephanie, Melissa and Leah) and three grandchildren.

See how Sam Gilliam is related to other HistoryMakers
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  • Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Sam Gilliam's interview
  • Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Sam Gilliam lists his favorites
  • Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Sam Gilliam describes his mother's family background
  • Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Sam Gilliam describes his father's family background
  • Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Sam Gilliam talks about his parents' move to Tupelo, Mississippi
  • Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Sam Gilliam remembers his home in Louisville, Kentucky
  • Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Sam Gilliam describes his parents' personalities and who he takes after
  • Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Sam Gilliam describes his earliest childhood memory
  • Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Sam Gilliam describes the sights, smells and sounds of his childhood, pt. 1
  • Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Sam Gilliam describes the sights, smells and sounds of his childhood, pt. 2
  • Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Sam Gilliam remembers his early exposure to jazz music
  • Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Sam Gilliam recalls his early experiences of religion
  • Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Sam Gilliam remembers his aspiration to become a cartoonist
  • Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Sam Gilliam talks about his early education
  • Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Sam Gilliam recalls his experiences at Central High School in Louisville, Kentucky
  • Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Sam Gilliam describes his extracurricular activities at Central High School in Louisville, Kentucky
  • Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Sam Gilliam recalls his decision to attend the University of Louisville in Louisville, Kentucky
  • Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Sam Gilliam remembers Muhammad Ali and his family, pt. 1
  • Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Sam Gilliam remembers Muhammad Ali and his family, pt. 2
  • Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Sam Gilliam talks about his experiences at the University of Louisville in Louisville, Kentucky
  • Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Sam Gilliam remembers majoring in art and education at the University of Louisville
  • Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Sam Gilliam describes his experiences in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, pt. 1
  • Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Sam Gilliam describes his experiences in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, pt. 2
  • Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Sam Gilliam remembers his graduate studies at the University of Louisville
  • Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Sam Gilliam talks about the art of African American slaves
  • Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Sam Gilliam recalls his M.F.A. degree program at the University of Louisville in Louisville, Kentucky
  • Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Sam Gilliam talks about his favorite cartoonists and comic strips
  • Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Sam Gilliam describes the early African American artists
  • Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Sam Gilliam talks about his disinterest in representational art
  • Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Sam Gilliam describes his favorite figurative artists
  • Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Sam Gilliam reflects upon the value of figurative art
  • Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Sam Gilliam reflects upon the value of black art
  • Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Sam Gilliam reflects upon the Black Arts Movement
  • Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Sam Gilliam describes the beginning of his career as a painter
  • Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Sam Gilliam talks about his early success
  • Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Sam Gilliam describes his creative process
  • Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Sam Gilliam talks about his favorite landscape painters
  • Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Sam Gilliam describes his art career in Paris, France
  • Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Sam Gilliam reflects upon his artwork
  • Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Sam Gilliam describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community
  • Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Sam Gilliam talks about the limitations of history and geography education
  • Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Sam Gilliam reflects upon his teaching career
  • Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Sam Gilliam talks about his children
  • Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Sam Gilliam talks about the role of women in the Black Arts Movement
  • Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Sam Gilliam narrates his photographs