US abstract painter Sam Gilliam, who was the first Black artist to represent his country at the Venice Biennale fifty years ago, has died at the age of 88, his gallery said Monday.

“Sam Gilliam was one of the giants of Modernism,” said Arne Glimcher, the founder of the Pace Gallery in New York.

He said Gilliam, who lived most of his life in Washington “was able to convey the shared torments and triumphs of life through the universal language of abstraction” and made a name for himself with “revolutionary work that freed the canvas from its support”.

An acclaimed colourist, Gilliam was hailed in the 1960s and ‘70s for taking the abstract canvas off the wooden stretcher and hanging it like a drape, or between two sawhorses, adding a spatial dimension that spanned the gap between painting and sculpture.

A man walks past an artwork by Sam Gilliam titled ‘Untitled’ on June 12, 2018, during the preview day of Art Basel. Photo: Sebastien Bozon/AFPA man walks past an artwork by Sam Gilliam titled ‘Untitled’ on June 12, 2018, during the preview day of Art Basel. Photo: Sebastien Bozon/AFP

Glimcher said he had “painted right up until the end of his life and his most recent works are among his best”.

Gilliam was born in Mississippi in 1933 but became a leading figure in the Washington Color School in the 1950s. He represented the US in the Venice Biennale in 1972.

 

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