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Melvin Edwards, Sam Gilliam and William T. Williams: Abstract Artists and Old Friends

Melvin Edwards, Sam Gilliam and William T. Williams: Abstract Artists and Old Friends

What accounts for the length and the depth of your friendship?

Melvin Edwards: Well, you know, I’m a take things for granted kind of person. They were just easy to be friends with, and that was it. Every time we got together, we enjoyed each other, talked to each other. You know, we argued, discussed, we had differences.

Sam Gilliam: Let’s say that they’re my creative partners. I really like both Mel’s and Bill’s work, and anytime we work together, it makes us competitive, and hence not to be outdone by the other. I always get excited whenever I get a chance to exhibit with them because I’m gonna come up with something special. It’s because I know that if I don’t … as Mel would say, you would have to wear red shoes to keep up with us!

M.E.: There are so many ways it can go because you’re talking about a set of relationships that started in the ’60s. And that’s 60 years ago. That’s encyclopedic, frankly. And we’ve all gone so many ways with it. You know, when you hand off the ball to Willie, you don’t know where he’s going. You look up and say, ‘Well, wait a minute. He just scored.’ You know? And that’s just the way it is: to have confidence in each other, that our abilities and intentions are going to work out.

William T. Williams: I think part of our everlasting friendship has a great deal to do with common interests, and a feeling that there’s a lot that can be done. Sam was in Washington. Mel and I were in New York. And over the years, there was constant dialogue, either by telephone or, sometimes literally, meeting halfway down. Sam would come up to Baltimore; we would go down to Baltimore, have lunch there and have a meeting about an exhibition or some ideas we had. It’s a friendship that went past the art world, and an interconnection of three human beings that had a great deal to do with art, but had more to do with the three individuals as people. A sense of their aspirations, their commonality, and just having fun together.

M.E.: I was cheesing Sam the other day because I remember when he was playing tennis. He was practically a tennis socialite in Washington. I’ve never played. I love to run five yards and knock the hell out of somebody. That means I was a football player. I know that Willie was involved in track and was a broad jumper. So those are things we found out about each other through the years. Teasing and talking is natural. That visual art was our arena — well, we worked out our own variations. And then, when we encountered each other, we found ways that those could work [together].

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