Acrylic on paper
14 x 12 inches (36 x 30 cm)
Framed: 26 x 22 inches (66 x 55.8 cm)
Signed on verso: Sam Francis 1989
Acquired from the artist
Private Collection, California
Smith Andersen North, CA
Sam Francis: The Spirit of the Shadow: Paintings and Etchings, 6/25 to 7/29/2000, Smith Andersen North, San Rafael, CA
Sam Francis: Online Catalogue Raisonne Project, Burchett-Lere, no SF89-262
Considered one of the premier colorists of the twentieth century, Sam Francis is best known for dramatic, lushly painted works comprised of vivid pools of color, thinly applied. Drips, gestures, and splatters of paint in his work have led many critics to identify him as a second-generation Abstract Expressionist, but Francis has also been compared to Color Field artists on the basis of large, fluid sections of paint that seem to extend beyond the confines of the pictorial surface. In 1964, the influential art critic Clement Greenberg included Francis in his celebrated exhibition “Post-Painterly Abstraction” at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. In the catalogue, Greenberg described Post-Painterly Abstraction as both being related to and distinct from Abstract Expressionism. Greenberg wrote, “By contrast with the interweaving of light and dark gradations in the typical Abstract Expressionist picture, all the artists in this show move towards a physical openness of design, or towards linear clarity, or towards both.”
Francis was born in San Mateo, California, in 1923. He originally studied medicine and psychology at the University of California at Berkeley, before serving in the U.S. Air Force. During a lengthy hospital confinement as a result of spinal tuberculosis, Francis began painting. After his release, he continued to study painting, first with David Park at the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco and then at U.C. Berkeley, where he majored in art and eventually earned both a B.A. and an M.A. During the late 1940s, he began producing and exhibiting his earliest abstract paintings. Francis was initially influenced by the work of the Abstract Expressionists, and he incorporated many of their techniques and ideas in his work. Despite this influence, Francis’s art was also in close dialogue with modern and contemporary French art.
Launching what would turn out to be a decade of travel abroad, Francis left California for Paris in 1950 and studied briefly at the Académie Fernand Léger. While there, he became friendly with the Canadian artist Jean-Paul Riopelle and several American artists, including Joan Mitchell, as well as more established European artists including Alberto Giacometti. Francis quickly began exhibiting his work—he participated in the 1950 Salon de Mai in Paris and as well as several group shows, including the critic Michel Tapié’s celebrated 1951 exhibition, “Un Art Autre,” which was shown in both Paris and London. By 1952, Francis was showing his work in several solo exhibitions and high-profile group exhibitions, such as “12 Americans” at the Museum of Modern Art (1956) and “New American Painting” (1958), both of which were curated by Dorothy Miller, and 1959 exhibitions Documenta II and the Bienal de São Paulo.
While in Paris, Francis became associated with the tâchistes (from the French word, tâche, meaning a splash or stain). Artists in this group developed a style of gestural action painting that reflected an expressive, painterly aesthetic and the artists’ desire to highlight the beauty of their materials, as opposed to portraying psychological or philosophical concerns.
In works made after the mid-1950s, Francis investigated perceptions of light and color by contrasting glowing jewel tones with large areas of white. Francis described his career-long interest in light as being “not just the play of light, but the substance of which light is made.” In the artist’s later works, he incorporated the light and colors of Southern California, where he lived almost exclusively after 1961. Indeed one of the most remarkable aspects of his work is his ability to convey complete emotions through his use of color. The way he blends, drips and splatters paint creates a palpable sense of energy and emotion.
Sam Francis’s contributions to the Abstract Expressionist movement and his unique style have left an indelible mark on the art world. His works can be found in major museums around the world and his influence is felt by so many Contemporary artists.