Melvin Edwards, Sam Gilliam and William T. Williams: Abstract Artists and Old Friends
What explains the length and depth of your friendship?
Melvin Edwards: Well, you know, I’m one to take things for granted. It was easy to be friends with them, and that was it. Every time we met, we had fun, we talked. You know, we argued, we argued, we had differences.
Sam Giliam: Let’s say they are my creative partners. I really like Mel and Bill’s work, and every time we work together it makes us competitive, and therefore not to be outdone by each other. I’m always excited every time I have the opportunity to exhibit with them because I’m going to come up with something special. It’s because I know that if I don’t… as Mel would say, you’d have to wear red shoes to follow us!
ME: The are it can go so many ways because you’re talking about a set of relationships that started in the 60s. And that was 60 years ago. It’s encyclopedic, frankly. And we’ve all come so far with that. You know, when you give the ball to Willie, you don’t know where it’s going. You look up and say, ‘Well, wait a minute. He just scored. You know? And that’s how it is: trusting each other, that our abilities and our intentions will work.
William T. Williams: I think part of our lifelong friendship has a lot to do with shared interests and feeling like there’s a lot to do. Sam was in Washington. Mel and I were in New York. And over the years there has been a constant dialogue, either over the phone or, sometimes literally, meeting halfway down. Sam would come to Baltimore; we went down to Baltimore, we had lunch there and we met about an exhibition or some ideas that we had. It’s a friendship that went beyond the art world, and an interconnection of three human beings that had a lot to do with art, but had more to do with the three individuals as people. A sense of their aspirations, their commonalities and just having fun together.
ME: I was making fun of Sam the other day because I remember when he was playing tennis. He was practically a tennis socialite in Washington. I have never played. I love running five meters and knocking someone out. It means that I was a footballer. I know Willie was involved in track and field and was a wide jumper. So these are things that we have discovered about each other over the years. Teasing and talking is natural. This visual art was our arena – well, we came up with our own variations. And then when we met, we found ways to make it work [together].