Sam Gilliam

American; b. Tupelo, MS, 1933; lives and works in Washington, D.C.

Light Depth


acrylic on canvas
120 x 900 in. flat (304.8 x 2286 cm)

Museum purchase
© Sam Gilliam


In 1962 Sam Gilliam moved to Washington, D.C. from Louisville, Kentucky. He began experimenting with color, scale, and the mutability of painting and sculpture, and in 1965 started to make paintings on raw, unstretched, unprimed canvas. In what would become a major creative breakthrough, he soon eliminated the frame entirely, draping his stained canvases into sculptural configurations. The process of soaking and folding the canvas introduced an element of chance to Gilliam’s work, demonstrating a departure from the deliberate pours and marks that other Color Field painters were exploring. While elements of chance, intuition, and improvisation are apparent, Gilliam’s paintings are also rigorous investigations into the formal concerns of abstraction. Monumental in scale, Light Depth was created for the 1969 Corcoran exhibition Gilliam, Krebs, McGowin. This knotted and draped installation curves around the walls of the gallery, responding directly to the museum’s architecture.