Sam Gilliam may have fallen into the shadows of the contemporary art world these days, but in the 60s and 70s the African American painter was at the forefront of the Color Field movement, pushing the limits of his medium. He did away with easel stretchers, preferring to drape huge canvases like laundry on a line. Similarly, he freed up the rigid lines of Color Field painting, allowing his colorful abstract shapes to interact more freely. His innovations felt organic, progressive, and open-ended—not unlike the civil rights changes taking place during the era, which other black artists chose to confront in more explicit ways. (The artist David Hammons used chains in his work, for example.) Gilliam’s formalist dialogue with the politics of the times has always resonated with the 35-year old artist Rashid Johnson, whose work often deals directly with issues of black identity. And it was Johnson who curated an exhibition featuring works from Gilliam’s early, fruitful period that opens tonight at David Kordansky Gallery in L.A.
Sam Gilliam: Hard-Edge Paintings is on view at David Kordansky, 3143 S. La Cienaga Blvd., Los Angeles, through May 11.
Image: courtesy of the artist and David Kordansky Gallery