Tag Archives: sam gilliam

Redefining my references

While developing my new series of work, I have realised that my MA proposal references are a little out of date and could do with being refreshed to reflect where I am currently.

Alice Fox, my current main reference artist is at the top of the list (and will remain so). Her work both in terms of process, narrative and philosophy is very much aligned to my own. The rest of my references however are well out of date. I am still looking back at the work of Raquel Rabonovich, but as of yet I am not sure what direction my paper making will evolve into – more work needed there. Otherwise, I have two more key contenders to think about:

Sam Gilliam, is loosely badged as a third-generation “Colour Field” artist, after the trend which accompanied the abstract expressionists back in the 1950s. His process involves pouring layers of acrylic paint onto unprimed canvases and letting it soak in. The result is an unruffled surface that conveys a striking combination of flatness and depth. Jackson Pollock and Helen Frankenthaler (who I had both actually heard of before) were others who were famous for pouring paint rather then applying it. In time (1969 in fact) he began “deliberately draping the canvases, creating fluid, semi-sculptural objects out of two-dimensional paintings. It was the first time anyone had taken a painting off the wall and transformed the cloth into folds and swaths and wraps, and they circumvented a whole series of formal painterly concerns: the frame, the shape, the wall.” [1]

What I like about this type of process is that the paint becomes part of the fabric, not just sitting on top pretty as a picture, so the very structure of the canvas itself is part of the work. I find his work infinitely more expressive that that of Richard Tuttle for example, who also works with draped, painted canvases. Gilliam’s sculptural approach which is almost contemporary, was said to be revolutionary at the time, “in that it repositioned the viewer’s relationship with the painting to include the object as well as the space around it, blurring the boundary between painting, sculpture, and architecture for the first time. Hanging from ceilings and walls but also from freestanding objects like sawhorses, Gilliam’s “drapes” left the wall behind to create physical environments that redefined the conceptual and aesthetic boundaries of abstract painting.” [2]

Gilliam’s Crystal, 1973


SWING, 1969

Second contender into the ring is Fukumoto Shihoko, one of Japan’s leading artists using shibori and indigo dyeing. Indigo is probably the most famous natural dye in the world, with a complex and lengthy dyeing process and uncounted layers of historical and spiritual associations with its use in Japan, dating back as far as the Heian period (764 – 1192).

Shihoko uses subtle shades of blue and natural materials to create luminous wall hangings and installations that covey the sensation of deep and fragile space. She describes her work as “I have always felt that the colour of the natural indigo dye of Japan has about it a spirituality; a special purity and beauty. I feel strongly that indigo dyeing embodies in my work a certain consciousness of space that I contain within myself.” Her imagery often incorporates the moon and water to draw in the viewer to the universal dimension in her work. Her major concerns are “with space, and for her, ‘ai’, the natural Japanese indigo dye, is more than merely a shade of blue – it is the colour of space.” [3]

2_fukumotoshihoko_b 11_fukumotoshihoko_b

The methods for using indigo often dye a cloth several tens of times over a period of four or five days in order to reach the required depth of colour. Incredible control is needed to avoid staining the white areas during dyeing and rinsing of the cloth – this is the power of the craft of Shibori. Indigo, as with all natural dyes, is sensitive to sunlight as well as other aspects of the weather. This ticks all of my boxes! Due to it’s such strong associations with Japan, I haven’t wanted to directly use indigo as part of my own work, as it feels like it is someone else’s craft tradition – if you know what I mean? However, I think I can still learn from some of the general techniques and shibori practices, particularly the texture you gain from the tight folding.

[1] http://www.wmagazine.com/culture/art-and-design/2014/11/sam-gilliam-artist/
[2] https://newamericanpaintings.wordpress.com/2011/04/21/well-hung-a-qa-with-sam-gilliam/
[3] http://www.culturebase.net/artist.php?914