Sam Gilliam’s Tactile Choreography of Colors

New works by Sam Gilliam in his studio, 2020 (all images courtesy Pace Gallery, © 2020 Sam Gilliam / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York )

“He makes works I can’t get next to and can’t get out of,” writes poet Fred Moten about the iconic DC-based artist Sam Gilliam. In an essay for the monograph accompanying Gilliam’s upcoming exhibition at Pace, Existed Existing — the artist’s first with the gallery — Moten describes his work as a “maelstrom, an irresistible whirlpool.” For six decades, Gilliam’s colors have swirled on canvases, his practice levitating above categorizations.

Starting November 6, Pace’s two Chelsea locations will present the artist’s large-scale canvases beside monochromatic paintings on Japanese washi paper, which are made by repeated drenching in color to create deep saturation. Speaking to art historian Courtney J. Martin, Gilliam describes these works, perhaps coyly, as “nothing more than a print,” as “placeholders” of sorts.

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