John E. Dowell, Jr Sam Gilliam Felrath Hines Gordon Parks Lorna Simpson Richard Hunt Romare Bearden John Woodrow Wilson Robert Colescott Adrian Piper Renée Stout Eldzier Cortor Richard Mayhew Carl Pope
African American Art Text Graphic

Sam Gilliam

Neruda’s The Celery Hats, 1989

Neruda’s The Celery Hats—part of a series of fourteen singular works of art on paper—reflects Sam Gilliam’s penchant for creating unconventional artworks. To produce this piece, he used hand-painted sheets of paper which were relief printed from stencils (made with industrial radiator screens) and hand-carved woodblocks. After printing, the sheets were cut into the desired shapes—most of which are circular—and assembled, in a dioramic fashion, in a deep frame with an arched top that echoes the circular motion of the composition. The piece is a visual dichotomy: it is balanced but chaotic, neat but muddled. The result is neither a conventional print nor is it, technically, a multiple. As a work of art it falls somewhere between painting and sculpture. One of the visual elements even seems to project through the frame on the right-hand side. The series, which pays tribute to Chilean poet Pablo Neruda (1904–1973)—one of the artist’s favorite writers—embodies both a sense of playfulness and a seriousness of purpose. The title of this piece refers to Neruda’s Apogee of Celery (Apogee del apio), and to the image’s shallow conical forms, which resemble Chinese coolie hats.

Gilliam was born in Tupelo, Mississippi, in 1933, and grew up in Louisville, Kentucky. He received his BA in 1956 and his MA in 1961, both from the University of Louisville. Although he began as a figurative painter, his move to Washington, D.C., in 1962 introduced him to the work of Washington Color Painters Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland. Gilliam quickly embraced their technique of pouring paint directly onto raw, un-stretched canvases. This methodology liberated him from the confines of canvas and brush painting and enabled him to create his world-renowned drape paintings. To make these revolutionary works, Gilliam dyed canvases using aniline dyes mixed with acrylic paint and displayed them, without stretchers, draped from walls and ceilings in a haphazard fashion. In 1972 he created a miniature, watercolor version of his draped paintings as a gift to his brother’s church, and the painting is now part of the IU Art Museum’s collection (see other works). Always an experimental artist, Gilliam pushes himself to break with tradition and to extend his medium (be it painting, sculpture, or printmaking) into new realms.

Romare Bearden, The Family

Sam Gilliam
American, b. 1933
Neruda's The Celery Hats, 1989
Monoprint: woodcut, relief print, hand-painting, and collage on grey BFK Rives paper and black, cream, and white Arches paper; published by Echo Press, Bloomington, Indiana
Image/sheet: h. 46 1/2 x w. 53" (118.1 x 134.6 cm),
IU Art Museum 90.64
Art © Sam Gilliam

Other Works:


Romare Bearden
Robert Colescott
John E. Dowell, Jr
Sam Gilliam
Felrath Hines
Richard Hunt
Gordon Parks
Adrian Piper
Lorna Simpson
John Woodrow Wilson
Renée Stout
Eldzier Cortor
Richard Mayhew
Carl Pope