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Sam Gilliam

Carousel Light Depth, 1969

Acrylic on canvas

Lent by the artist

Sam Gilliam took artistic spontaneity to new levels, allowing thinned acrylic paint to flow across canvas like a river of lush glowing colors. Then he liberated the canvas from the stretcher to float free, furling and folding in sensual arrangements. Carousel Light Depth is 75 feet of fabric—dazzlingly saturated with pinks, purples, greens, blues, and silver—gathered and draped, majestic in its vast expanse. Gilliam was fiercely committed to aesthetic abstraction during a decade wracked by racial tension and a contested war. But in the same year that he made Carousel Light Depth, he also created a moving tribute to Martin Luther King, where red and purple stains evoke the bleeding wounds of the martyred Civil Rights crusader and anti-war activist. Gilliam served three years in the Army, then moved from Louisville to Washington, D.C. in 1962. His expansive canvases and exuberant colors evoke the fresh optimism of John F. Kennedy’s youthful presidency. His art has been celebrated in museums and collections worldwide for decades.
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