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Statement on the Passing of Sam Gilliam

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

The DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities (CAH) extends its sincere condolences to the family, friends, and colleagues of Sam Gilliam, who passed away on June 25, 2022, at the age of 88.

Mr. Gilliam, a world-renowned American color field painter and lyrical abstractionist artist, was affiliated with the Washington Color School, an art movement that began in Washington, DC, in the late 1960s to 1970s. In addition to receiving a multitude of grants, prizes, and honorary doctorates over the course of his illustrious career, he also taught art at Washington's McKinley High School.

Sam Gilliam’s artwork, Ship, 1967, was accessioned into the Art Bank Collection in 1988. It will be installed at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in September 2022 as part of a new CAH-DC Public Library partnership featuring an Art Bank loan program at the library.

“I have known Sam Gilliam for decades and appreciated his pioneering innovation in the arts. I am proud to count myself among the collectors of this visionary’s works and recognize Sam’s local, national and international significance,” said Reggie Van Lee, Board Chair of the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities.

"Beyond his immense contributions to the visual arts, Sam Gilliam was a beloved mentor who cultivated the talent and spirit of District artists with an immense generosity of heart,” said Heran Sereke-Brhan, Executive Director of the Commission on the Arts and Humanities.

Originally scheduled for 2020, Mr. Gilliam’s most recent and final exhibition of works titled Sam Gilliam: Full Circle opened this past May at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian. Instead of the originally planned retrospective, the exhibition, which will close on September 11, 2022, features works almost entirely produced during the COVID pandemic.

Sam Gilliam earned a Bachelor of Arts and Master’s in Fine Arts, both from the University of Louisville.

CAH is the designated state arts agency for the District of Columbia and is supported primarily through District government funds and in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.