Marian McLaughlin, Staff Writer

“I have no idea how he made these,” students said as they walked out of the Fine Art Gallery at George Mason University’s new School of Art building. “How did he do it?” All the commotion was caused by Sam Gilliam’s works from his show, Color/More.

The artist unveiled around 10 pieces at last Wednesday’s opening. Stunned viewers stared at the canvases, blown away by Gilliam’s artistic technique.

Each canvas contained lush colors and amorphous shapes which took on the swirled and polished qualities of a marble design.

Were his paintings really paintings, though? Paint is obviously Gilliam’s medium of choice, even if there was some secret formula involved to give such viscous form to the pieces.

However, his canvases were more like collages. Gilliam created his pieces by combining multiple panels. This style blends painting with sculpture, delivering a three-dimensional effect through the layering of paint and panels.

Each panel relates to the others with vibrating shapes and swirls of color, but they play with each other, as well as the viewer’s perception, when paired together. The result is art with a definite organic feel.

Some students compared the shapes, colors and textures of the exhibit to elements found in nature.

“They seem completely natural and earth-formed,” said painting graduate student Clarita Herce. “There is no presence of the artist’s hand except when he cuts the canvas.”

For instance, it is difficult to know where to start looking in “Needing Starlight.” The panels rotate directions between vertical and horizontal, and the work becomes even more segmented by two thin horizontal strips.

New themes pop up with long continuous streaks of color; whether it is the thin, silver line that cuts across the whole canvas, or the rectangular chunk of mulberry sitting on top of a nebula of colors.

Some panels have textures that seem like a cross between colorful carpet padding and Jackson Pollock’s drips.

In “Lullaby,” this effect does not have much of an impact, since most of the panels run vertically and in the two main panels, the shapes and colors echo each other.

There is a dominant presence of midnight blue in the background and the focal points on these two canvases are like bright yellow, runny egg yolks.

During the reception, students debated whether these works were spontaneous or guided. Chris Rackley, a graduate art student explained that “things don’t just happen someone has to be behind these creations.”

He mentioned how Jackson Pollock always had control over the brush, no matter how sporadic and chaotic his canvases appeared.

Herce, who overheard this comment, chimed in, “No one directs the ocean, so why can’t Gilliam’s works be spontaneous in nature, too?” People awaited answers from the artist himself, who was present at the reception. Gilliam, however, did not speak publicly  about the exhibit.

Perhaps it is up to the viewer’s imagination and perception to absorb the colors in his canvases and to see more from them.