Three American Painters: David Diao, Sam Gilliam, Sal Sirugo

Sep 03, 2016 - Jul 31, 2018
Lilien Gallery

The three artists in this exhibition each used abstract expressionism, the prevailing American style in the postwar period, as a point of departure. Their paintings represent important continuities with the previous generation and highly distinct personal innovations.

Sam Gilliam, who gained critical attention as one of the Washington color school painters, developed a variant of the staining process key to that group’s imagery.  In later years he took the canvas off the stretcher to create three-dimensional paintings that were sculptural and often site-specific. David Diao worked with large expanses of color and slick, smoothly layered surfaces related to the color field paintings of the 1950s. Sal Sirugo, probably the least known of these three artists, developed a style of painterly abstraction that embraced the white writing and heavy impastos of West Coast abstract expressionist painters like Mark Tobey. Unlike Tobey, who invested his imagery with mystical content, Sirugo’s titles and discussions of his paintings point to a deeply held belief in non-referential abstraction. All three are celebrated for their large-scale and abstract paintings with heavily worked or highly colored surfaces. 

Organized by Betty Jarvis, MA Art History, Rutgers 2016, and Graduate Assistant 2015–16, and Donna Gustafson, Curator of American Art and Mellon Director for Academic Programs

Sam Gilliam

Breeze 1967, 1967

Acrylic on canvas

111 x 90 3/16 in. (282 x 229 cm)

Collection Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers

Class of 1921 Art Purchase Fund


Photo Peter Jacobs