African American Artists during the Twentieth Century
Sam Gilliam, Open Cylinder (1979). Courtesy of Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C. / Art Resource, NY
Sam Gilliam's art has frequently defied traditional notions of what paintings ought to do and how they ought to look. Rather than tying himself to a square canvas, early in the 1970s Gilliam chose to explore the borders and boundaries of painting by using uniquely cut canvases like the one found in Open Cylinder, or by eschewing stretcher bars entirely and draping his painted canvases from alternative supports. These strategies have made Gilliam one of the most dynamic and innovative painters of his generation and helped to signal a revival in painting and abstraction at a moment when the art world was beginning to turn away from older media and modes in favor of newer technologies and trends.