Sam Gil­liam brings his in­no­va­tive use of color back to the Phillips Col­lec­tion in the form of a stair­case in­stal­la­tion cel­e­brat­ing its 90th an­niver­sary.

The Washington Post Sunday - - ARTS - BY JAC­QUE­LINE TRESCOTT trescottj@wash­post.com

Artist Sam Gil­liam’s sig­na­ture strokes on draped cloths, tow­er­ing pan­els and tra­di­tional can­vases are part of our ev­ery­day lives, on dis­play in mu­se­ums as well as at li­braries, banks and Rea­gan Na­tional Air­port. For al­most 50 years, Gil­liam has been an ev­er­chang­ing force in Washington’s arts cir­cles, even as his work and recog­ni­tion have grown far be­yond the city.

In 1967, Gil­liam re­ceived his first solo show at the Phillips Col­lec­tion, where he was saluted as an in­no­va­tor in Washington’s Color School, a move­ment in the ’ 60s and ’ 70s that pro­duced bursts of color in geo­met­ric forms and fan­ci­ful shapes.

Gil­liam’s work is in­cluded in the col­lec­tions of the Metropoli­tan Mu­seum of Art, the Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art, the Tate Gallery in London and the Moderne in Paris. The Cor­co­ran Gallery of Art mounted a ret­ro­spec­tive of his ca­reer in 2005.

This week, Gil­liam, 77, re­turns to the Phillips, where as part of its 90th an­niver­sary, he was asked to make a work to com­ple­ment its el­lip­ti­cal stair­way. The pan­els he cre­ated, be­tween 10 and 8 feet long, are sus­pended on wire in a 24-by-24-foot well. They ra­di­ate with del­i­cate and in­tense bursts of color. Some of the banners have cutouts of empty frames so views of each bold ex­plo­sion are not blocked.

Dressed in jeans and a gray sweater, Gil­liam talked about his in­spi­ra­tion as a crew hung the long pan­els.

“I’m call­ing the work ‘Flour Mill.’ I started think­ing of the ap­proach by study­ing one of the early ab­stract paint­ings I first saw here in Washington. Arthur Dove and his ‘Flower Mill II’ in­spired the paint­ing. Let’s see, that’s 1938. He used land­scape as a way of con­nect­ing with paint­ing. There’s also a real con­nec­tion to Mon­drian. The green re­lates to land­scapes. Some of the ar­eas con­nect more to wa­ter. That’s some­thing I wouldn’t have said in the 1960s.

“I didn’t look at the stair­case and the space. I didn’t want to worry about it. These pan­els are 10 feet tall. The ma­te­rial is ny­lon, and I used an acrylic paint. The acrylic has a wet­ting agent that stains the ny­lon, so the plas­tic on the ta­ble has the same pat­tern.

“In the stu­dio, I hung them on a rod away from the wall. Now I have to ar­range it to make it into a work. Now I’m go­ing back to the stu­dio be­cause I think I need more — maybe two more pan­els. The next one is bronze and green be­cause it needs some ac­cents. “ The paint­ing never closes in that sense.” The in­stal­la­tion will be on view un­til April 24.

RE­TURN­ING TO THE PHILLIPS:

Artist Sam Gil­liam, at right, over­sees the in­stal­la­tion of “Flower Mill,” above and at top, a work he was asked to cre­ate for the Phillips Col­lec­tion’s 90th an­niver­sary. In 1967, Gil­liam re­ceived his first solo show at the Phillips, where he was saluted as an in­no­va­tor in­Wash­ing­ton’s Color School move­ment of the 1960s and ’70s.

PHO­TOS BY ASTRID RIECKEN FOR THE WASHINGTON POST

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