Born: Tupelo, Mississippi 1933
acrylic and aluminum on canvas 119 5/8 x 283 1/2 in. (303.8 x 720.1 cm) Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of Mr. Edwin Janss, Jr.
Smithsonian American Art Museum
3rd Floor, North Wing
Swing is a Color Field painting set loose from its stretcher. Gilliam folded, squeezed, and suspended enormous sheets of canvas while the paint was wet, and the title reflects that intense physical movement as well as the swagged shape. Swing also evokes Gilliam's desire to "just work and let things go" like John Coltrane and other jazz musicians he listened to in his studio.
Gilliam is an African American who moved from Mississippi to Washington, D.C., in the early 1960s. He created Swing when the city was torn by racial and political protests, but Gilliam resisted the pressure to make his art about his black identity. He thought of himself as an abstract expressionist, and believed that good art had a power greater than any obvious political theme. Today, he remains a vital figure on the national scene, and sustains the commitment to abstract form that he inherited from his mentors decades ago.
Exhibition Label, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2006
metal - aluminum
paint - acrylic
fabric - canvas