Since the early sixties, Sam Gilliam has been recognized as an original and innovative color field painter. He has advanced the inventions associated with the Washington Color School and Abstract Expressionism to a new level. Gilliam has redefined the techniques of these traditions and he continues to reinvent his ideas about making art. To his early works in the 60's and 70's on stretched, then draped, and more recently wrapped canvas, Gilliam added sculptural elements as extensions of his surface, thereby making uniquely shaped works.
By 1980, he was applying sculptural elements to the surface, making three-dimensional sculptural paintings. Currently, he creates multimedia installations and employs brightly stained polypropylene, dozens of layers of painted and printed color, computer generated imaging, metallic and iridescent acrylics, hand-made paper, aluminum, steel, and plastic: Gilliam's art is an example of evolution through aesthetic exploration. Gilliam's progress also reveals a consistent commitment to long standing principles of art. Through this process of informed improvisation, Gilliam creates art which embellishes its surroundings and entices viewers with its daring diversity. His large scale installations in metro stations and airports are as exciting and new as his individual studio pieces.
Gilliam's ability to compliment and challenge existing spaces using form, design, color and scale with visual and tactile appeal constantly amazes and delights long-time fans as well as new-comers to his world of abstraction and ingenuity. Eleanor Heartney writes: "[Gilliam] presents a body of works in which meaning is woven into the structure of works, as part of their strivings for unity and their measured accommodation of freedom and order ... Gilliam's works are painstakingly orchestrated to create a sense of internal harmony. Planes are locked together in compositions full of internal rhymes and rhythms, and shapes and colors appear, subtly altered, across the surface of pitted canvas and smooth aluminum."
Gilliam was born in Tupelo, Mississippi and attended the University of Louisville in Kentucky where he received his B.A. in fine art and his M.A. in painting. He has taught in Washington D.C. public schools and in many prominent art schools and Universities in Washington D.C., Maryland, and Pennsylvania. Since his first grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1967, Gilliam has been acknowledged by a long list of public and private commissions, grants, awards, exhibitions and honorary doctorates. Gilliam lives in Washington D.C. and operates a large studio in the beautiful historic district known as Shaw. Gilliam is internationally known, exhibited, and enormously respected; he is Washington's preeminent artist.