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.


In this series, Education Specialist for Public Programs Emily Bray highlights participants in the 2016 James McLaughlin Memorial Staff Show, on view through September 19, 2016.

Brittany O'Dowd, "Study of Adam"

Brittany-Rose O’Dowd, “Study of Adam”


Brittany-Rose O’Dowd

Brittany-Rose O'Dowd, Photo: Rhiannon Newman

Brittany-Rose O’Dowd, Photo: Rhiannon Newman

Tell us about yourself.

I am an amateur of many media—I photograph nature, paint bright abstract pieces, and do still life and studies in charcoal.

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

I work in Membership and Development, and my job consists of keeping our database clean and up to date, processing gifts, and helping out wherever the Membership team needs it.

Who are your favorite artists in the collection?

I love Sam Gilliam. The first time I saw his work in the gallery I gasped, it was so beautiful! I’m also a big Degas fan. I was home-schooled when I was very young and he was a favorite artist of ours to learn about.

What is your favorite gallery or space within The Phillips Collection?

I enjoy the second floor of the original Phillips house a lot. I always find something that I love there, and since it’s small and quiet I get to spend time alone with the works.

What would you like people to know about your artwork on view in the 2016 Staff Show (or your work in general)?

I selected this study because I had seen an image with the figure posed this way, and found the torso almost disturbing—it seemed twisted and uncomfortable. I never had an art-anatomy course so it was new to me to think about what the muscles and bones are doing under the skin. Portraits and figures are not something I usually draw, so it was a challenge to me, but I enjoyed it.

The 2016 James McLaughlin Memorial Staff Show is on view August 14 through September 19, 2016.

May Your Day Be As Green As…

Christenberry_Green Warehouse

William Christenberry, Green Warehouse (Distance View), Newbern, Alabama, 1981/printed 1995. Ektacolor print, 17 1/2 x 22 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Gift of Lee and Maria Friedlander, 2002


Sam Gilliam, Koa, 1965. Acrylic on canvas, 24 x 24 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Gift of Robert B. and Mercedes H. Eichholz, 1991


Ernest Lawson, Spring, ca. 1913. Oil on canvas mounted on panel, 16 1/8 x 20 1/8 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Acquired 1915