- The Washington Times - Friday, June 1, 2007

Most visitors to the Marsha Mateyka Gallery’s Sam Gilliam “New Work” exhibit will remember the artist’s intensely emotional 2005 retrospective at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, in which he juxtaposed poured brilliant color with rectilinear geometric shapes.

Many thought Mr. Gilliam wouldn’t be able to come up with more artistic inventions, but he has here. It’s a remarkable grouping of five acrylic paintings on birch wood and five paper constructions of silk screen, cement and stitchery in which he demonstrates new ways of making art.

Interviewed at the gallery, Mr. Gilliam explains that the plywood is constructed like a thick sandwich, with the uppermost layer of birch painted.

“The panels tell me how to paint and how to connect the sections,” he says. “I think of them as random geometry.”

Like most of the works — as seen in the first two paintings, named “Smooth” and “Like Black Pepper” — he first cuts up commercially sized 4-by-8-foot veneered birch on which he paints circles. He then cuts them into various sizes — most often rectangles — and reconfigures them.

It’s a rich, complex constructing of a unique art.

Mr. Gilliam placed “Smooth” at the exhibit’s opening, then contrasts both its transparent and even surfaces with “Like Black Pepper.”

Looking closely at “Smooth,” visitors see that Mr. Gilliam effectively combines a heavy opaque ground with the more transparent birch wood. Only a whitish ovallike shape interrupts the downward flow of the birch patternings.

Moreover, he thickly painted the right panel, with a brilliant cobalt blue half oval decorating the “inset,” or rectangular piece, attached to the bottom. It’s from one of the first cutups.

Mounted directly across is “Like Black Pepper,” a more complexly conceived work. Fluid blue, yellow and red ovals flow from left to right through the disparately sized panels, with the “inset” mounted at top left. It’s a real beauty.

Clearly, the wider and thinner panels ground the elements in these first two paintings.

In the next gallery, Mr. Gilliam juxtaposes much the same compositions and colors in “Elegant” and “Seeds.” He adds tiny impastoed circles and ovals to his basic swirling of larger ovals in “Seeds” for an insouciant touch.

In “Tracks,” placed in the middle room, Mr. Gilliam places an extraordinarily thin middle panel at center with electric reds, deep black, aqueous blues and golden ovals splaying out. If this is a metaphoric dance, they could be jumping.

The artist also pushes his technical interests to making paper constructions — all titled “Cement” — and produced in April during a visiting-artist stint at the University of Tampa in Florida. At first, his students couldn’t believe he uses thinned concrete and cotton stitchery in the silk screens, but he quickly taught them its advantages.

In Tampa, he first silk-screened the paper, then raked a thin comb through the wet concrete before further collaging the paper with cotton stitchery. (One of the students had a sewing machine.)

He created “Concrete (Red)” with diagonal, rectangular and circular elements, making the large center circle with a stencil.

This intriguing exhibit demonstrates that Mr. Gilliam is never far from new ideas and remains close to his Color Field paintings and earlier geometric forms.

Fortunately, he knows how to give them different twists.

WHAT: Sam Gilliam “New Work”

WHERE: Marsha Mateyka Gallery, 2012 R St. NW

WHEN: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, through July 28

TICKETS: Free

PHONE: 202/328-0088

WEB: www.marsha mateykagallery.com

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