Sam Gilliam (1933-2022) was an African American artist based in Washington, D.C. He was born in Tupelo, Mississippi, and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, where he began painting as a child, eventually attending the University of Louisville where he received his B.A. in Fine Art and M.A. in Painting. He went on to teach art to high school students in the Washington D.C. public school system, and university-level students at the Corcoran School of Art, the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), the University of Maryland, and Carnegie Mellon University. His numerous grants and awards include the 1971 Solomon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship and multiple Honorary Doctoral degrees.
As an artist, Gilliam is best known for his three-dimensional draped and suspended paintings, covered with large fields of poured paint, pigment, and colorful staining influenced by the movement and colors of Abstract Expressionist painters. He created many public works that incorporated new materials such as custom designed metal forms, quilted canvas, and textiles; his works often included subtle social commentaries through their titling. His suspended paintings cemented Gilliam as an innovative and influential presence in 20th century American art.