The Phillips Collects: Sam Gilliam

Sam Gilliam, Purple Antelope Space Squeeze, 1987

Sam Gilliam, Purple Antelope Space Squeeze, 1987, Diptych: Relief, etching, aquatint and collagraph on handmade paper with embossing, hand-painting and hand-painted collage, 41 ½ x 81 ⅝ in., The Phillips Collection, Bequest of the Estate of Marion Goldin

Born in Tupelo, Mississippi, in 1933, Sam Gilliam received his BA and MA from the University of Louisville. In 1962, he moved to Washington, DC, where the Washington Color School led by Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, Gene Davis, Howard Mehring, and Thomas Downing had flourished. Following a period of figurative painting, Gilliam embraced abstraction and hard-edge geometric designs, and then experimented with expressive pourings. In 1967, The Phillips Collection purchased Gilliam’s Red Petals, and hosted his first solo show. While preparing for this exhibition, Gilliam discovered that by creasing, bunching, or crumpling paper still wet with watercolor, he could create an armature for his color combinations, a kind of drawing to structure his compositions. These experiments also shaped his approach to printmaking.

In the early 1970s, while a visiting artist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Gilliam practiced printmaking with William Weege. In 1987, Weege founded Tandem Press, and Gilliam was the first artist invited to print there. Purple Antelope Space Squeeze is the first editioned work created for Tandem. Gilliam first sent Weege a drawing of the shape he wanted the paper to be, and a mold was made according to those specifications. The initial image was a relief print using carved woodblock elements and lithography inks. Then Gilliam attached handmade paper collage pieces he had painted. A variety of printing techniques followed involving inked and un-inked metal relief plates, steel and zinc etchings, and aquatint plates. Gilliam then hand painted details on the surfaces to prepare them for their final printing while inks from previous runs were still wet. Each impression of the print bears a unique pattern because the artist placed the printing elements in different positions and inked them in a variety of colors. Purple Antelope Space Squeeze is the second print and the eighth work by the artist to enter the collection.

The Phillips Collects: Richard Serra

Richard Serra, Reykjavik, 1991

Richard Serra, Reykjavik, 1991, Paintstik over screenprint on Japan paper, 67 x 76 in., ed. 7/46, The Phillips Collection, Gift of Sid Stolz and David Hatfield. Photo: Rhiannon Newman

Reykjavik is a silkscreen created with oil-stick at Gemini G.E.L Editions, where Richard Serra (b. 1938) worked frequently during the late 1980s and the early 1990s, developing a process that gives these prints the weight and physical presence of his sculpture. Here, he begins with a single layer of flat black ink applied onto a specially treated paper in the areas to be coated with oil-stick. The rich quality of the work is the result of passing the viscous material through the screen and from using a textured roller over the surface of the print. Serra’s Afangar (1990)—a topological sculpture project on a small island near Reykjavik comprised of nine pairs of black basalt columns cut from local quarries and placed around the island’s periphery—was a source of inspiration for this series of prints. Working on the project prompted Serra to fill many notebooks with drawings, which were later transferred onto small etching plates. Serra turned to silkscreen to achieve on paper a sense of monumental landscape.

Detail of Richard Serra, Reykjavik, 1991

Detail of Richard Serra, Reykjavik, 1991. Photo: Kabrea Hayman

Staff Show 2018: Emma Sweeney

In this series, Manager of Visitor and Family Engagement Emily Bray highlights participants in This Is My Day Job: The 2018 James McLaughlin Memorial Staff Show, on view through September 30, 2018.

Crouch by Emma Sweeney

Crouch by Emma Sweeney

What do you do at The Phillips Collection? Are there any unique or interesting parts about your job that most people might not know about?

Museum Assistant. My favorite part of the job is getting one-on-one time with the artworks.

Photo of Emma Sweeney

Emma Sweeney

Who is your favorite artist in the collection?

Alexander Calder, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Joan Mitchell, Francisco de Goya

What is your favorite space within The Phillips Collection?

I love the Laib Wax Room and the former main gallery. It’s very secluded and peaceful there.

What would you like people to know about your artwork on view in the 2018 Staff Show (or your work in general)?

My piece for the staff show is a woodblock print which I made using two separately carved blocks. One block was carved using the jigsaw method, in which the block is cut up into different pieces that can then be inked separately and put back together like a jigsaw puzzle, allowing me to print multiple colors from one block. Apparently this was one of Edvard Munch’s favorite methods of printmaking (Munch is one of my personal printmaking heroes). The second block I carved serves as the “key” block, the central part of the final image (in this case the lines of the figure), which I printed on top of the jigsaw block. What I love best about this process is that it is a combination of printing and painting: I paint the inks onto the jigsaw block, which means I can be totally spontaneous with the color and gesture. Even though I am re-creating the same image each time, each print comes out looking radically different (no two are exactly alike). In terms of the image itself, I’ve always been drawn to the female form (for reasons I don’t quite understand), and I particularly like creating visceral, expressive poses.

This Is My Day Job: The James McLaughlin Memorial Staff Show is on view through September 30, 2018.