Bethesda Fine Art presents its new online exhibition, On the Edge of Abstraction: Gilliam, Young, Sockwell, and Daley. This show brings together four Black Washington DC artists, who pushed the boundaries of abstraction, experimenting notably with the concept of edge, not only as a formal structure, but as a concept to break free from.
In the 1960s and 70s, the Washington Color School brought national attention to innovations in abstraction by DC artists, forever redefining the concepts of color and form. Whether the wholly abstract works of Sam Gilliam or Kenneth Victor Young, or the more representational works of Carroll Sockwell or Eglon Daley, these artists represent generations of Washington artists whose willingness to innovate showcase the variety of artistry in the region, and shine an overdue spotlight on the work of Black artists.
Young and Gilliam offered formal variations within the Washington Color School. In reaction to the painterly, gestural technique of abstract expressionism, many Color Field painters rendered their compositions with hard edged forms. Hard edge painting provided a language to describe new developments in the works of artists like Gene Davis, Kenneth Noland, and Howard Mehring. Kenneth Victor Young, however, differed from many of his contemporaries. By permeating the edges, Young’s floating orbs suffuse his canvases, an effect created through acrylic paint diluted with water poured onto unprimed canvas.
Young himself described the importance of edges to his technique: “I put the color down with a brush on raw canvas…I use acrylic dyes. I spray water on it and thin it in places…I take a sponge and take out the excess water in other places. Edges are important to me—the edges of the forms and shapes; the edge of the stretcher. Beginnings and endings are important to me…”
Sam Gilliam went further. By taking the canvas off the stretcher and draping his paintings, Gilliam eliminated the four edges of a canvas, freeing the painting from its frame. In his later career, Gilliam created mixed media collages of overlapping handmade paper. In these works, the edges of the paper create idiosyncratic forms and add texture to the composition. Gilliam often cut out space from within the collages, adding visual interest through the creation of unexpected three-dimensional negative space.
From a later generation, Carroll Sockwell created sketch-like works on paper, painterly landscapes and hard-edged geometric abstraction. In an early landscape, Sockwell delineates boldly colored forms of buildings with thick painterly black brushstrokes creating loosely-defined structures or forms. Later, he used linear edges in some collaged and drawn forms, adding objects like torn newspaper and wood with jagged edges. These works simultaneously combine geometric abstraction with organic, seemingly incidental edges.
Eglon Daley represents a younger generation and has had success not only as a painter, but as an established frame-builder to many great artists including Gilliam, Young, and Sockwell. Sockwell, particularly, loomed large as an inspirational figure. An art teacher friend of Daley often spoke glowingly of Sockwell, and later introduced them. While influenced by these artists, Daley finds inspiration in life, painting social and public gatherings and festivals to capture the diversity of contemporary America. Though a representational artist, Daley utilizes lessons from abstraction by using minimal shading for his overlapping figures, flattening their forms as well as the entire picture plane. His brightly colored figures are rendered with hard edges formed from areas of relatively solid color.
From the Washington Color School to gestural abstraction to contemporary figurative art, Young, Gilliam, Sockwell, and Daley pushed the expectations of abstraction and pursued their own interpretations of cutting edge.
This exhibition can be viewed online on our website or on Artsy, and all works are available through the gallery.