In Honour of Sam Francis’s hundred’s Birthday
02.05.2023 – 16.06.2023
Born in 1923 in San Mateo, California
Died in 1994 in Santa Monica, California
The young Californian artist Sam Francis was an Abstract Expressionist painter, ten years younger as the other artists of this time period, but working abstract already in the same time.
After studies in medicine and psychology at the University of California at Berkeley, Francis served in the Air Force. Due to an injury, he was kept immobile in traction while recuperating, and one of the few things he was capable of doing was to create small paintings.
His interest grew from there, and he studied art in San Francisco before returning to complete a MFA degree at the University of California. In 1950, Francis traveled to Paris to study at the Académie Fernand Léger. There he made the acquaintance of contemporary artists like Jean-Paul Riopelle, Joan Mitchell, Al Held, Alberto Giacometti et. al., and was visiting the studio of Constantin Brancusi, whose work he admired very much. As an avantgarde-artist, his work was taken up in exhibitions in Paris, London and Bern. His participation in the exhibition “Twelve Americans” in 1956 in the Museum of Modern Art, New York, made Francis famous all over the world. He created paintings in biomorphic forms with complementary colors as well as pieces using only black and white at this time.
In contrast to the painters of the “New York School”, Francis chosed to use optical colors and thinned-down paint, allowing the pigment to soak into the canvas and leaving a great deal of open space in order to provide the colors enough space to “breathe”. This technique, akin to watercolor, relies on the transparency of the paint. The color is bright and clear, and the soaking and bleeding provides for unique painterly incident, but there is no over-painting or reworking of the canvas.
Francis was fond of the work by Clifford Still and by Mark Rothko, as he heard his lectures when he was in San Francisco. Francis was strongly influenced by the calligraphic elements and the lyrical character of the Asian art, which he could study during a world journey to India, Thailand and Japan. Sam Francis was studying buddhistic texts and reading the TAO. In Tokyo he was studying Zen.
The dark brooding and gritty textural qualities of the New York painters were soon replaced by the luminous contrasting colors, smooth surfaces, and lyrical spontaneity of California sunshine and Zen gestures. His work became integrated in exhibitions in Tokyo and Osaka. In 1959 he was asked by the Chase Manhattan Bank to paint a large-scaled mural. In this time the artist changed from surface covering all-over painting to a process of dripping and bleeding, sometimes leaving large areas of raw canvas and providing a transcendental impression to the viewer. The artist moved back to California in 1962, first to Santa Barbara and later to Venice. In the 1960’s he developed a form of spontaneous and gestural dripping, which was of great importance also for his later work. During the next decades he was travelling between Paris, New York and Japan, where in 1985 he married the English painter Margaret Smith, and in 1986 their son Augustus was born in Los Angeles. Until 1994 Sam Francis was living with his family in Santa Monica, California.
Untitled SF 70 -007
Gouache on Paper
36 x 23 cm, Courtesy american contemporary art GALLERY