In 1968, Sam Gilliam held his first solo exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery of Art—50 years later local artists are still making vibrant works of art.
Sam Gilliam is recognized as the first artist to introduce the concept of a draped, painted canvas, hanging without stretcher bars. For his more recent pieces, Gilliam has worked with polypropylene, computer-generated imaging, metallics, handmade paper, plywood and plastic.
At 85 years of age, legendary local artist Sam Gilliam is still going strong. He’ll be presenting a solo exhibition at David Kordansky Gallery in Los Angeles in January, is currently included in the group exhibition Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power at the Brooklyn Museum until February, and in March, he will open at The Broad in Los Angeles. Perhaps the only other 85-year-old as busy and culturally relevant as Gilliam these days is Ruth Bader Ginsburg. In the 1960s, Gilliam became intertwined with the Washington Color School, a movement that has come to symbolize DC artistry as much as Duke Ellington, go-go music and the ’80s punk scene. His influence can be seen with this trio of artists, who, like Gilliam, mine the power of color across media to originate vivid masterpieces.
Maggie O’Neill is the founder of design firm SWATCHROOM and SUPERFIERCE—an exhibition showcasing all women artists. She painted a 25-foot parachute for the Women’s March in 2017 and created the official artwork for the National Cherry Blossom festival.
Why is your work so colorful? Color is my muse, my addiction and my therapy. It affects me and moves me in a way that is not easy to explain completely. Color can calm, motivate, inspire and provoke emotion and reactions in people. I believe in color almost like a religion. Color theory states no color next to another is ever the same. Your eye sees color in context [of] what it’s placed next to. I believe people are the exact same. No painting is ever the same because I paint quickly and with visceral reactions to the color that provokes the next move and then the next, and so on. I do not know how to make art or live without color.
Currently working on... I have many fun events going on through the holidays at my Color Pop Up Gallery (1634 Connecticut Ave. NW, DC, maggieo.com), including my ‘Fearless Girl’ installation. I’m also working on a new series called All In for spring 2019. The collection is inspired by themes and iconography related to being an entrepreneur. Much of the series highlights the glory and downside of risk, odds, courage, perseverance, winning and losing.
Jason Kampf (jsonart.com) has been painting for 20 years and says his inspiration comes from “the drive to create and then to achieve balance.” He held his first exhibition in 2016 with the help of Barbara Hawthorn.
Why is your work so colorful? My work is all about color. Most people seem to be afraid of color in their homes. Walls are often white or neutral along with cabinetry and most furnishings. I try to bring color to people. The idea behind abstract and color is to give people a sense that it is all OK—that you can in fact [use color]. I use one color to balance the next, and so on. My pieces are as much about balance as they are about color.
Currently working on... A complete new series where I am using wood panels. Images will be more exact. I am not using stencils; I am using tape instead. Keeping consistent with what I have found works, this series focuses on color and geometric shapes to create balance. This month, I have my photography on display at Peacock Cafe (3251 Prospect St. NW, DC, peacockcafe.com) in Georgetown. Plans are well underway, and we are firming up details for a solo exhibit beginning in late January here in Washington.
Anne Marchand (annemarchand.com) is inspired by mystic poetry; archaeological goddess figurines; the writings of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell; and works by early abstract expressionists.
Why is your work so colorful? First, I must tell you that I am from New Orleans. Can you think of a more vibrant or colorful city? Color is a primary vehicle for expression; I am drawn to it like honey. It’s exciting to see complementary colors playing with the optics of one’s field of vision. The impact that color has on the mind and emotions is well documented. Color has an inherent ability to produce beauty, happiness, well-being and an array of emotions, in a powerful and dramatic way. This supersaturated aesthetic is an entry point for the audience to react and engage with the work in a meaningful way.
Currently working on... A series of large-scale works that incorporate a flow technique with collaged elements of paint and fabric. I am preparing work for exhibition in Georgia at Augusta’s Morris Museum of Art and Macon’s Museum of Arts and Sciences in 2019. This month, my early sculptural works, which started me on this exploration of space, are being shown in the Traveling Full Circle exhibition at Zenith Gallery’s Eleven Eleven Sculpture Space (1111 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC, zenithgallery.com).