“Rio,” by Sam Gilliam, is one of the artist’s “drape” paintings, which exist on the border between painting and sculpture. A pioneering, experimental artist, Gilliam is recognized as the first to introduce the idea of a draped, painted canvas when he created his first drape painting in 1965.
Often referred to as a lyrical abstractionist, Gilliam is associated with the 1960s Washington Color School of abstract painters, and in 1972 was the first African American artist to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale.
In “Rio,” Gilliam explores the three-dimensional possibilities of painting by removing the canvas from the constraints of the stretcher bars. His ethereal color mixtures rely partially on chance and imperfection and are formed by pouring layers of pigment onto the raw canvas where they are allowed to flow and mix freely. The arrangement of the paint echoes the drape of the canvas, creating an overall impression of lyrical movement and fluidity.
“Rio” is currently part of the exhibition “Presence,” featuring works by eleven modern and contemporary African American artists from HoMA’s collection.
Born 1933. Lives and works in Washington, D.C.
Acrylic on canvas
Gift of The Contemporary Museum, Honolulu, 2011, and gift of James Jensen (TCM.2007.34.5)