Ankauf Arnold Rüdlinger-Fonds

Ankauf des Werks "Rondo" von Sam Gilliam für das Kunstmuseum Basel

Born in 1933 in Tupelo, Mississippi, from 1942 Gilliam grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, where he would also later complete his master of fine arts degree. After relocating to Washington, DC, in 1962, he began to experiment with color and was soon associated with Color Field painting, a style whose exponents in the US capital included Kenneth Noland and Morris Louis, and which later became known as the Washington Color School.

Gilliam’s hard-edge paintings of the mid-1960s are a testament to his encounters with Noland and Louis. In 1967, Gilliam began to expand his artistic vocabulary. He would pour acrylic paint directly onto an unprimed canvas and fold it before the paint was dry. Then he would stretch the painted canvas on a beveled stretcher, which gave the painting a spatial, object-like quality. The series became known as the beveled-edge paintings. It is the series Gilliam began in 1968, however, the Drapes, that is today considered his outstanding artistic achievement. Working
with the canvases much as he did with the beveled-edge paintings, here the difference is that he freed them from the stretcher. In both groups of works, improvisation and the process of creation were the primary painterly concerns. Gilliam’s work from those years is characterized by its monumentality and its expressive, almost ecstatic color. In contrast to traditional painting with its prescribed form and ability to function regardless of its context, the
Drapes become part of each environment they “inhabit.” By actively integrating within the exhibition space, it is painting that demonstrates a threedimensionality in a real, literal sense. As Gilliam says, the idea is “to advance the painting as much into space as possible.” One effect being that the viewer has to move around the painting, in order to be able to see all of its facets.

Through his expressive style of painting – inspired by jazz and, in particular, John Coltrane’s expansive style – Gilliam breathed new life into painting at a time when it seemed to be in decline.
Rondo, a singular work from 1971, is one of the few surviving Drapes in which Gilliam combined canvas suspended from the ceiling with a wood object. As in most of his works created from the mid-1960s on, this painted canvas evinces a wide range of tonalities, layers, and textures of paint. The ground here consists in shifting combinations of the primary colors blue, red, and yellow, accentuated by complementary hues of green, orange, ocher, pink, or violet. Color here is not saturated but thinned down, disembodied, and this, in addition to the absence of the stretcher frame, reduces the object-like character of the painting. The artist points out that: “It is painted with the colors that are mostly used in underpainting to get a feeling between solidity and fog as in ‘Notre Dame’ by Monet.You have to paint really light, more watery, like a water color.“

The three-meter-long oak beam, an unpainted geometric form, stands in stark tension to the cloudy
colorfulness and irregular shape of the loosely draped curtain-like canvas. In contrast to the canvas, which is suspended by cords from the ceiling and touches neither the floor nor the walls, the oak beam provides a clear sense of place by forging a connection between the floor and the wall. The artist recalls finding the beam in a barn at the house of a collector, where he was staying in 1971, while preparing for an exhibition and decided to add it to
the piece.

The way Rondo is installed in the Kunstmuseum Basel at the moment recalls the way it was painted in the first place, as Sam Gilliam explains: “It is painted in the air. The heavy paint is painted last. By painting in the air you get the feeling of the pour, with shapes put into it, using plastic to prop it up from the bottom. It’s like a stalactite. A big stalactite in a cave and I try to come as close to that physicality as possible. They are luminous. It’s just melted rock.” In a sense, Rondo evokes a stage on which the painting now liberated from its corset may freely unfold. As a final relic the oak beam also calls to mind the rectangular support of a stretcher frame that Gilliam has disposed of with his Drapes.
Olga Osadtschy