Imago Gallery, Palm Desert
by Richard Speer
Sam Gilliam’s third outing at Imago showcased the abstract painter’s state of the art: creamy, marbled miasmas of brilliant color advancing and receding on rectilinear planes. Gilliam’s taste for spatial adventurism came to prominence via his draped canvases of the late 1960s and early 1970s, but more recently he has expanded the paramaters of his chosen medium via a Hofmann-like push-pull, not only of color relationship but also in the layering of his birch panels, which protrude at varying depths from the baseline picture plane.
The latest body of work displayed a creamy swirling of acrylics, evocative of sea currents and cloud patterns as seen from earth orbit. Caravaggio is perhaps the show’s most fully realized piece, awash in watercolor-like flow, exultant in a not-quite-primary palette: denim and cobalt blue, tomato red, and yellows ranging from lemon to mustard. The assertively vertical River is segmented into planes in a way that nods to constructivism and DeStijl, along with the artist’s native mélange of late Abstract Expressionism and color field painting. Tinteretto, with its virtuosic brush- and palette knife-work in six discrete sections, riffs on the paradoxes of gesture within containment, impulse within regularity. Newman expands horizontally with swooshy motion-blurs of cerulean, deep purple, and midnight blue, while Memphis takes a grittier tack, the largest of its eight sections scrawled with chalky ovals and splatters, commingling seepy washes in ecru and burnt sienna.
With their swirls of saturated color superimposed over rigorous planes, Gilliam’s works juxtaposed miasma and structure, Einsteinian warp and Euclidean geometry—all with consummate refinement and a winning exuberance. Although he has enjoyed a long career packed with bold gestures, Gilliam has rarely seemed as self-assured as he does in the current work.
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