Acrylic on canvas
179.6 x 126.5 cm / 70 3/4 x 49 3/4 in

Painted in 1965, ‘Ionesque’ is a superb example of this new degree of authority. Here, Gilliam began with bare cotton-duck canvas, drawing his initial design with adhesive tape and using the Magna acrylic resin paints popular among his peers to soak directly into the canvas. He then removed the tape while the paint was still wet and allowed colours and shapes to gently bleed into each other. The tension between compositional order and disorder is strikingly apparent in ‘Ionesque’ – it is simultaneously monolithic and divided, holistic and in a constant state of flux.

Bare and stained areas push and pull forward, suggesting negative and positive space. The painting’s geometric order emanates from the top right-hand corner, a kind of vanishing point, yet upon closer examination, the composition disintegrates where Gilliam let the colors bleed together, in the corner and along the boundary of purple and gold. This distinctive feathering marks an important discovery for Gilliam and a turning point in the development of the artist’s technique.

Photo: Wesley Magyar

Sam Gilliam

One of the great innovators of postwar American art, Sam Gilliam has explored the ways in which painting can be interrogated and redefined for nearly six decades. An important early canvas, Gilliam’s ‘Ionesque’ (1965) dates from a fertile and powerful phase within the artist’s oeuvre. In 1962, Gilliam had moved from Louisville, Kentucky, to Washington, D.C., where he became a part of the city’s core group of painters known as the Washington Color School. From 1963 to 1970, Gilliam’s work progressed with great intensity and confidence, fuelled in part by the support and recognition of institutions, curators and artists alike.