Pace Prints is pleased to announce Sam Gilliam: Make it Wonderful, an exhibition of monoprints by Sam Gilliam (1933–2022), on view October 13 – November 18, 2023, at 536 West 22nd Street. This exhibition will focus on thirteen large-scale monoprints that Sam Gilliam created in 2021 at the Brandywine Workshop and Archives.
Sam Gilliam’s legacy as a pioneer in postwar American art reaches well beyond the movement of Color-Field Painting of which he was an integral part of in the mid-1960s in Washington, DC. Gilliam was an innovator, and throughout his life and work he was driven by a strong predisposition toward material experimentation. He changed the course of abstract expressionist art when he released the canvas from its stretcher to create his first iconic drape paintings in 1965. Gilliam was a master at manipulating print material and brought his relentless experimentation into any workshop. In his later work, Gilliam engaged digital technology to assist in the printmaking process, including thirteen large-scale monoprints on view at Pace Prints which he made in collaboration with Brandywine Workshop and Archives in Philadelphia.
Brandywine is a nonprofit organization established to produce limited-edition screenprints. As their first artist-in-residence in 1975, Sam Gilliam became involved in growing and supporting their initiatives. Later, as a member of the board, Gilliam cemented this important creative partnership that spanned decades.
Make it Wonderful presents one of the last projects produced from this collaboration before Gilliam’s passing in 2022. Pulled from a single watercolor painting, the color areas were digitally separated into three values: light, medium, and dark, to produce a series of what Giliam referred to as “emphatic black and white prints.” Using oil-based lithography ink the monoprints were created from maple wood blocks milled with a computer numerical control (CNC) router.
Gilliam described the importance of tactility in his process:
“When you run your hand across the surface, you can feel how it is made... A blind person is the one who sees.”
Though the works were made in Brandywine’s workshop, the pieces traveled back and forth to Sam Gilliam’s studio in Washington DC where he would implement changes, including a pivot away from grayscale toward reviving earlier color concepts. The variations, from marbled texture to a spectrum of bright diptychs, to black and white works elevated with silver ink, are anchored by complex additive and subtractive qualities.
By rearranging the sequence of blocks and color, Gilliam experimented with endless combinations concluding in vastly different images, some composed of over twenty layers. The result is an exemplary use of innovative technology in printmaking that expanded upon the possibility of what could be done without compromising the will of the artist. These monoprints are guided by Gilliam’s vision, and the expertise of the printmakers who articulated it.