In 1973, while a visiting artist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Gilliam began working with William Weege, a master printer who had also collaborated with Alan Shields. Weege introduced Gilliam to a wide variety of techniques, including stitching paper with a sewing machine, a method he adopted from Shields. By the early ‘70s, Gilliam’s paint handling had also evolved from thin washes of color to what one art historian described as a “drop-cloth aesthetic”—haphazardly applied blots and drips of paint. To translate this visual effect to screenprinting, Weege sometimes randomly selected screens that were hand-drawn by Gilliam, then printed them one atop the other in multiple layers. The two thus worked together to translate Gilliam’s intensive material experimentation from painting into many different forms of printmaking. The three works in this proposed acquisition demonstrate some of the breadth of their efforts. Sam Senior is large, dense and varied; Pink Horse Shoes cleverly employs sewing to incorporate a clothes hanger; and Red Lady runs counter to the assumption that printmaking must take place upon a flat, even surface by using impressively thick, handmade paper as a support. This particular group of prints has found its way to the Akron Art Museum because of longtime Museum supporter Rory O’Neil’s own collaboration with Weege. In the early 70’s, the two co-owned a print-making operation in rural Barneveld, Wisconsin, known as the Jones Road Print Shop and Stable, which included both a farm and a print facility. A journalist described Jones Road as “a workshop in which anything is possible, at least until it has been attempted.” Artists including Gilliam and Shields came to the University of Wisconsin as visiting professors, stayed at the farm, and made prints. Many examples of these in turn entered the collection of Rory and Dedee O’Neil as gifts in lieu of rent.
Verso, TC in blue ink is “Elegy. #5. 1980. Sam Gilliam”