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A master of American abstract art has died: Sam Gilliam was 88

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A master of American abstract expressionist art has died.

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Sam Gilliam was one of the most celebrated black artists of his generation. Over a career of more than 60 years, he expanded the boundaries of painting on canvas. He died Saturday at the age of 88.

MARTIN: Evelyn Hankins is a curator at the Hirshhorn Museum here in Washington, D.C. She says Gilliam stunned the art world in the late 1960s when he threw away the frame that stretches a canvas flat. The artist let his vibrant paintings hang and billow like garments from a clothesline.

EVELYN HANKINS: He basically challenged the idea of what a painting could or should be.

MARTINEZ: Hankins says Gilliam borrowed from the free-form improvisation of jazz music.

HANKINS: For Sam, he was both deeply engaged and a student and a lover of jazz. And I think that you find parallels in his own practice with jazz. He would bring together very complex and competing elements.

MARTIN: Sam Gilliam's final solo exhibition is on view now at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.