An interview of Sam Gilliam conducted 1989 Nov. 4-11, by Ben Forgey for the Archives of American Art. Gilliam speaks of his decision to come to Washington, D.C., from Louisville, Ky.; his shift from figurative painting to abstract painting; meeting Washington painters Robert Gates and Tom Downing; the "stature" of Tom Downing in the Washington art scene in the 1960s and Walter Hopps' role; influential exhibitions at the Jefferson Place Gallery and the Washington Gallery of Modern Art; being a Washington artist and a black artist; artist/teachers at American University; the Johnson Avenue Workshop grant; his relationship with Rockne Krebs; the history of the Washington Coalition of Artists; the Corcoran Gallery and the Washington Project for the Arts' relationship to Washington artists; his involvement with the District of Columbia Art Center; teaching; and his working methods. Gilliam also discusses various paintings, processes, materials, ideas and experiments at length. He recalls Gene Davis, Howard Mehring, Ken Noland, Morris Louis, Nesta Dorrance, Alma Thomas, Lou Stovall, Al Nodal, Jock Reynolds, Michael Botwinick, Willem de Looper, Paul Reed, and others.
Biographical / Historical:
Sam Gilliam (1933- ) was a painter of Washington, D.C.
These interviews are part of the Archives of American Art Oral History Program, started in 1958 to document the history of the visual arts in the United States, primarily through interviews with artists, historians, dealers, critics and others.
An interview of Willem De Looper conducted 1992 January 26 and February 29, by Benjamin Forgey, for the Archives of American Art. De Looper discusses growing up in the Hague, in Holland, during WWII; his family and educational background; moving to the United States in 1950; his U.S. Army service; his studies at American University and his teachers including Robert Gates, Ben Summerford, William Calfee, and Sarah Baker; his early experiments with abstraction; his first studio in Washington, D.C.; exhibiting at the Jefferson Place Gallery in the 1960s and later at the B.R. Kornblatt Gallery; working at the Phillips Collection for twenty-five years; and materials, techniques, and influences in his painting. He recalls Tom Downing, the Institute of Contemporary Art (Washington, D.C.), John Gernand, Sam Gilliam, Michael Clark, Duncan and Marjorie Phillips, Harold Giese, William Woodward, Jim McLaughlin, and others.
Biographical / Historical:
Willem De Looper (1932-2009) was a painter from Washington, D.C.
Originally recorded on 4 sound cassettes. Reformatted in 2010 as 8 digital wav files. Duration is 5 hr., 23 min.
This interview is part of the Archives of American Art Oral History Program, started in 1958 to document the history of the visual arts in the United States, primarily through interviews with artists, historians, dealers, critics, and administrators.
Transcript available on the Archives of American Art website.
Painters -- Washington (D.C.) -- Interviews Search this
Art students -- Washington (D.C.) -- Interviews Search this
Painting, Modern -- 20th century -- Washington (D.C.) Search this
Unedited interviews produced for a WETA public television program "Washington Colorists," including one of Marcella Brenner (4 videocassettes) concerning her husband, painter Morris Louis, conducted by Jackson Frost, and one of artists Sybil and Robert Meyersburg conducted by Jeffrey Bieber. The program aired April 15, 1987.
Publication, Distribution, Etc. (Imprint):
Washington, D.C. : WETA, 1987.
Donated 1989 by Sybil Meyersburg.
Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center. Contact Reference Services for more information.
Authorization to quote, publish, or reproduce requires written permission from GWETA (Greater Washington Educational Television Association). Contact Reference Services for more information.
Painting, Modern -- 20th century -- Washington (D.C.) Search this
The papers of the artist Gene Davis measure 17.7 linear feet and date from 1920-2000, with the bulk of materials dating from 1942-1990. Papers document Davis's personal life and his career as an artist and educator, as well as his career as a journalist in the 1940s and 1950s, through biographical materials, correspondence, interviews, business records, estate records, writings by and about Gene Davis, printed materials concerning Davis's art career, personal and art-related photographs, and artwork by Davis and others.
Scope and Contents:
The papers of the artist Gene Davis measure 17.7 linear feet and date from 1920-2000, with the bulk of materials dating from 1942-1990. Papers document Davis's personal life and his career as an artist and educator, and to a lesser degree his early career as a journalist in the 1940s and 1950s, through biographical materials, correspondence, interviews, business records, estate records, writings by and about Gene Davis, printed materials concerning Davis's art career, personal and art-related photographs, and artwork by Davis and others.
Biographical materials include birth and death certificates, awards, biographical narratives by Gene Davis and others, CVs, résumés, personal documents from Davis's family and childhood, documents related to his work as a White House correspondent, documentation related to his death and memorial service, and papers for the family pets. A video documentary about Davis by Carl Colby is found on one videocassette.
Correspondence is mainly of a professional nature, and correspondents include gallery and museum curators, private art collectors, publishers, fellow artists, art educators, academics, and students. Letters document exhibitions, sales, book projects, teaching jobs, visits to studios, local art community events in the Washington, D.C. area, and other projects. Significant correspondents include Gene Baro, Douglas Davis, Clement Greenberg, Gerald Nordland, William Seitz, Alma Thomas, and Donald Wall. Interviews and lectures include sound recordings and transcripts. Many of the interviews were broadcast or published. Also found is a single lecture by Davis given in 1969 at the National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian Institution, entitled "Contemporary Painting." Sound recordings are found for three of the interviews and for the lecture, on 4 sound reels and 1 sound cassette.
Business records include artwork documentation, price lists, sales records, contracts, financial and legal records, gallery and museum files documenting sales and exhibitions, records related to the construction of Davis's home studio in 1970, and a few teaching records. Estate records mainly reflect Florence Davis's efforts to document the works of her husband, and to manage their exhibition, promotion, and sale after his death in April 1985. Estate records include an inventory of artworks, documentation of gifts to museums, correspondence, legal, and financial records. Writings include notes, drafts of essays, artist statements, and articles by Davis, and many articles by others about Davis. Several of Davis's articles reflect specifically on the Washington, D.C. art scene. Also found are drafts of monographs on Davis including one by Donald Wall (1975) and one by Steven Naifeh (1982). Records of Naifeh's book also include photographs of all black and white and color plates from the published book. Among the writings are also notes and research files of Percy North, who worked on an update to Naifeh's 1982 bibliography after Davis's death.
Printed materials include annual reports of museums, published arts-related calendars, auction catalogs, brochures from organizations with which Davis had some affiliation, exhibition announcements and invitations, exhibition catalogs, magazine articles, newspaper clippings, newsletters, posters, press releases, and other published material. Photographs include personal photographs of Gene and Florence Davis and their families, portraits of Gene Davis, photographs of Gene Davis with artworks and working in the studio, Davis' art classes and students, installations of site-specific works, conceptual and video works, exhibition openings, and photographs of artwork, both installed in exhibitions and individually photographed. Found among the photographs are also four videocassettes documenting the Gene Davis retrospective as installed at the Smithsonian National Museum of American Art in 1987.
Artwork includes photographs, drawings, moving images, and documentation of conceptual art. Works by Davis include documentation of the 1969 "Giveaway" with Douglas Davis and Ed McGowin, "The Artist's Fingerprints Except for One which belongs to someone else," documentation of his "Air Displacement" happening, a short film entitled "Patricia," and a video entitled "Video Puzzle." Other moving images include four reels of film of Davis's stripe paintings, and other experiments with motion picture film and photographs.
The collection is arranged as 8 series.
Series 1: Biographical Material, 1930-1987 (0.6 linear feet; Boxes 1, 17)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1943-1990 (1.7 linear feet; Boxes 1-3)
Series 3: Interviews and Lectures, 1964-1983 (0.3 linear feet; Box 3)
Series 4: Business and Estate Records, 1942-1990 (1.6 linear feet; Boxes 3-5, 17, OV 20)
Series 5: Writings, 1944-1990 (2 linear feet; Boxes 5-6, 17, OV 19)
Series 6: Printed Material, 1942-1990 (5.5 linear feet; Boxes 7-11, 17-18, OV 20, FC 35-37)
Series 7: Photographs, 1920-2000 (3.8 linear feet; Boxes 11-15, 17, OV 19)
Series 8: Artwork, 1930-1985 (2.2 linear feet; Boxes 15-16, 18, FC 21-34)
Biographical / Historical:
Gene Davis (1920-1985) was a Washington, D.C.-based artist and educator who worked in a variety of media, including painting, drawing, collage, video, light sculpture, and conceptual art. Davis is best known for his vertical stripe paintings and his association with the Washington Color School.
Davis was born in 1920 in Washington, D.C. and began his career as a writer. In his twenties he wrote pulp stories and worked as a journalist, reporting for United Press International and serving as a White House correspondent for Transradio Press Service during the Truman administration. Later, he worked in public relations for the Automobile Association of America. A self-taught artist, Davis began painting while still working full-time as a writer, influenced by the prevailing abstract expressionist artists of the time, his frequent visits to the Corcoran Gallery and Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., and by his friend and mentor, Jacob Kainen. His first one-man show was held in the lobby of the Dupont Theater in Washington in 1952. He had a drawing accepted in the Corcoran Area Show in 1953, and won several local art prizes in the 1950s. He began showing work regularly in galleries around Washington, such as the Watkins Gallery at American University, the Gres Gallery, and the Henri Gallery, and had solo exhibitions at Jefferson Place Gallery in 1959 and 1961. Many of the painters who made up what became known as the Washington Color School also showed there, including Kenneth Noland, Howard Mehring, and Sam Gilliam. In 1965, the Washington Gallery of Modern Art held a seminal exhibition entitled Washington Color Painters, which included Davis, Noland, Mehring, Morris Louis, Thomas Downing, and Paul Reed.
Davis began showing outside of Washington regularly in the 1960s, including the Poindexter and Fischbach galleries in New York City, and in several important group shows at museums such as the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. He had three works shown in the 1964 exhibition Post-Painterly Abstraction, organized by the influential art critic Clement Greenberg at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. In the late 1960s, he began teaching art classes at the Corcoran School, and spent the summer of 1969 as artist in residence at Skidmore College's "Summer in Experiment" program.
Davis experimented with form continuously throughout his career, including a period of conceptual work in the late 1960s. In 1969 he participated in the "Giveaway," organized by Douglas Davis and Ed McGowin, in which multiple copies of a Davis painting were given away to invited guests in a gesture intended to subvert the art market. Davis also began experimenting with scale, creating a series of tiny paintings he called "Micro-paintings," which were exhibited at Fischbach Gallery in 1968. Around this time he also began working with film and video, recruiting models from his art classes to enact tightly choreographed movement pieces that played with rhythm and interval. Convinced by a lawyer that his videos were a liability without having obtained releases from the models, Davis destroyed all but one of his video works. The surviving video, "Video Puzzle," shows a foreshortened view of a model on the floor of a gallery spelling out a statement by Clement Greenberg at predetermined intervals.
Davis made several large-scale site-specific works using the stripe motif in public places. The first of these was created in the Bal Harbour, Florida, Neiman Marcus department store in 1970. Later works included Franklin's Footpath, executed in the road leading to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1972, and Niagara (1979) at ArtPark in Lewistown, NY, promoted at the time as the largest painting in the world. Interior large-scale works were created twice at the Corcoran Gallery, with Magic Circle (1975) and Ferris Wheel (1982), both executed in the museum's rotunda. Black Yo-Yo was created for the Cranbrook Academy in 1980, and Sun Sonata (1983), an illuminated wall of colored liquid-filled tubes, was created as an architectural feature of the Muscarelle Museum of Art in Williamsburg, Virginia. Plans for an unexecuted work called "Grass Painting," for a site near the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., were exhibited in the 1974 "Art Now" festival.
In the late 1970s and 1980s Davis consistently exhibited his work in several solo gallery shows a year, and also had numerous solo exhibitions in major museums. A major exhibition, Recent Paintings, was organized by the Walker Art Center in 1978, and traveled to the Corcoran Gallery of Art in 1979. A drawing retrospective was held at the Brooklyn Museum of art in 1983, and the same year the Washington Project for the Arts organized an exhibition entitled Child and Man: A Collaboration, featuring drawings Davis made in response to childrens' drawings. Davis died suddenly in April 1985 at the age of 65, and a major retrospective of his work was held at the Smithsonian National Museum of American Art in 1987.
Also found in the Archives of American Art is an oral history interview with Gene Davis conducted by Estill Curtis Pennington on April 23, 1981. A transcript is available on the Archives of American Art website.
Donated 1981 by Gene Davis and 1986 by his wife, Florence. Additional material donated 1991 and 1993 from Smithsonian American Art Museum via a bequest to them from the Gene and Florence Davis estate. Much of the 1993 addition was assembled by art historian Percy North at the request of Florence Davis. An additional folder of photographs of Davis taken in 1969 but printed in 2000 was later added to the collection.
Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C. Research Center. Use of archival audiovisual recordings with no duplicate access copy requires advance notice. Contact Reference Services for more information.
Reporters and reporting -- Washington (D.C.) Search this
The papers of contemporary Color Field painter and educator Sam Gilliam measure 7.9 linear feet and date from 1957 to 1989. The papers include biographical material, correspondence, writings, business records, printed material, subject files, a scrapbook, artwork, and photographic material that document Gilliam's life from his time as a student through his teaching, professorial, and artistic career. The collection highlights Gilliam's close involvement with the art institutions, racial politics, and artistic innovation taking place in 1960s through 1980s America, specifically in Washington D.C.
Scope and Contents:
The papers of contemporary Color Field painter and educator Sam Gilliam measure 7.9 linear feet and date from 1957 to 1989. The papers include biographical material, correspondence, writings, business records, printed material, subject files, a scrapbook, artwork, and photographic material that document Gilliam's life beginning as a student, through to his teaching, professorial, and artistic career based in Washington D.C. The collection highlights Gilliam's close involvement with the art institutions, racial politics, and artistic innovation taking place in 1960s through 1980s America, specifically in Washington D.C., and showcases the planning and creation of the large scale three-dimensional paintings Gilliam is best known for as a member of the Washington Color School of painting.
Biographical material includes resumes, passports, exhibition lists, artists' statements and essays, interview transcripts and recordings. Also included are audio recordings of conversations between Sam Gilliam and artist Benny Andrews, between Gilliam and artist Rockne Krebs, as well as recordings of a 1968 interview conducted by Dorothy Gilliam.
Correspondence spans over 20 years and includes letters to and from museums and galleries such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Studio Museum in Harlem, Carl Solway Gallery, collectors, artists including David Driskell, friends, family, students, and fans.
Writings include notes, statements, and essays by and about Gilliam, writings by university students of Gilliam, and writings related to Gilliam's artwork and public commissions including measurements for artworks, material research, and information regarding prints created for the private home of Walter Mondale.
Business records primarily include the daily records of activities kept by Sam and Dorothy Gilliam's secretary, Debby, from 1973 to 1978. Also present are resumes for a studio assistant for Gilliam, certificates of originality, legal documents, receipts and invoices, a record of donated paintings, financial records, ledgers, contracts, records and paperwork for the Gilliam's company Enterprise 101, and miscellany.
Printed materials include photocopies, exhibition announcements, magazines, and clippings regarding exhibitions, specific artworks, and commissions, and Gilliam and/or his then-wife, Dorothy Gilliam.
The subject file series contains letters, photographic material, business records, sketches, and printed materials concerning specific galleries, public art commissions, arts organizations, workshops, teaching positions, Gilliam's studio, art suppliers, and other topics.
A disbound scrapbook contains photographs, notes, and printed material related to Gilliam and his studio practice.
The artwork series includes sketches, personal notes, and small preparatory drawings by Gilliam.
Photographic material includes negatives, slides, and transparencies of artworks, Gilliam in his studio, and Gilliam and staff preparing museum and gallery exhibition spaces. Also included are records of student artwork, and photos and slides of artwork sent to Gilliam by students and aspiring artists.
This collection is arranged as 9 series.
Series 1: Biographical Material, 1958-1988, (Box 1; 0.8 linear feet)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1965-1989, (Boxes 1-2; 0.6 linear feet)
Series 3: Writings, 1962-1988, (Box 2; 0.4 linear feet)
Series 4: Business Records, 1957-1986, (Boxes 2-3; 1.0 linear foot)
Series 5: Printed Material, 1962-1987, (Boxes 3-4; 1.0 linear foot)
Series 6: Subject Files, 1963-1988, (Boxes 4-7; 2.2 linear feet)
Series 7: Scrapbook, 1958-1968, (Box 7; 0.2 linear feet)
Series 8: Artwork, 1970-1980, undated, (Boxes 7-9; 0.4 linear feet)
Series 9: Photographic Material, 1960-1985, (Boxes 8-9; 0.3 linear feet)
Biographical / Historical:
Sam Gilliam (1933- ) is an African-American artist based in Washington, D.C. He was born in Tupelo, Mississippi and raised in Louisville, Kentucky where he began painting as a child, eventually attending the University of Louisville where he received his B.A. in Fine Art and M.A. in Painting. He went on to teach art to high school students in the Washington D.C. public school system, and university-level students at the Corcoran School of Art, the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), the University of Maryland, and Carnegie Mellon University. His numerous grants and awards include the 1971 Solomon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship and multiple Honorary Doctoral degrees.
As an artist, Gilliam is best known for his three-dimensional draped and suspended paintings, covered with large fields of poured paint, pigment, and colorful staining influenced by the movement and colors of Abstract Expressionist painters. Gilliam went on to become a part of the Washington Color School of painters, where his creation of free-form works flourished. He created many public works that incorporated new materials such as custom designed metal forms, quilted canvas, and textiles; his works often included subtle social commentaries through their titling. His suspended paintings cemented Gilliam as an innovative and influential presence in 20th century American art.
The Sam Gilliam papers were donated to the Archives of American Art by Sam Gilliam in 1989.
Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C. Research Center. Contact Reference Services for more information.
Authorization to publish, quote, or reproduce requires written permission from Sam Gilliam. Contact Reference Services for more information.