Sam Gilliam

(American, 1933– )

Red April

, 1970
Acrylic on canvas, 110 x 160 in.
Gift of The Longview Foundation and Museum purchase, 1971.11


The title Red April references the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (April 4, 1968), and the riots that followed in Washington, D.C., where Sam Gilliam resided.

Gilliam painted Red April by pouring and splattering acrylic pigments (some thinned-out, some thick and intense) onto a raw canvas he placed on the floor. Gilliam folded the canvas like an accordion and let the paint dry for a while. He intended for some of the pigment to remain wet so that when he unfolded the canvas, it would pull off and adhere to the canvas on top of it. Gilliam then stretched the canvas on beveled stretchers, so it would appear to be coming out of the wall.

Sam Gilliam's experiments of the 1960s and 1970s grew out of the innovations of modern artists like Jackson Pollock. In addition, by breaking with traditional definitions of material and technique, Gilliam contributed a great deal to contemporary art through his revolutionary work with raw and manipulated canvas (both unframed and shaped), in his application of the properties of newly developed artist-quality acrylic paints, and in his magnificent color field painting. Gilliam was one of the first generation of Washington-based painters who explored the relationships between colors on large expanses of canvas, and to this day he remains one of the most highly praised African-American artists in the world.