Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Sam Francis – Space and Color

Sam Francis - Trietto II - Aquatint Print
“Painting is about the beauty of space and the power of containment.” – Sam Francis

Sam Francis with Wallse Ting in studio
American Abstract Artist Sam Francis was late to start his successful and brilliant career as a painter and printmaker. While serving as a pilot in the United States Air Force during WWII, Sam Francis suffered an injury that hospitalized him for several years. While recovering, Sam Francis began to paint over the side of his hospital bed to escape the mundane routine of the hospital as well as the pains of his aching body. Developing a love for art and finding an artistic voice was healing for Sam Francis, and the art created in this time had an astonishing remedial effect on Sam Francis’ mental and emotional state.

Sam Francis - Untitled SF345
Sam Francis’ experience as a pilot had a unique bearing on his paintings and prints, which often utilized aerial perspectives to communicate the silence of the skies. Sam Francis’ aerial approach to the canvas became paramount to his methodology as a painter, as well as a signature style for Sam Francis.

During the late 1940s, Sam Francis began producing and exhibiting his earliest abstract artworks. Francis was initially influenced by the work of the Abstract Expressionists, like Mark Rothko and Arshile Gorky, and Sam Francis incorporated many of their techniques and ideas in his art. Despite this influence, Sam Francis’ art was also in close dialogue with modern and contemporary French art. His references ranged from the Water Lilies of Claude Monet, which inspired many of Sam Francis ideas about atmosphere and space, to Pierre Bonnard and Henri Matisse, whose conceptions of pure color were particularly resonant with Francis.

Sam Francis - Pasadena Box (Plate 8)
Lithograph Print
While traveling to Japan during the 1950’s, Sam Francis became interested in Japanese calligraphy and art, particularly the Japanese use of negative space. Sam Francis was acutely aware of the dialogue between color and space on the canvas. In many of Sam Francis’ prints and paintings from the 1960’s the brushwork is relegated to the outer edges, leaving vast empty spaces in the center of each art piece. The negative space, or silence within Sam Francis’ art is as meaningful as Francis’ fluid brushwork of radiant color.

“Color is a kind of holy substance for me,” Francis said. “It’s the element in painting which I am most fascinated with. It is an element of painting which overcomes me. . . . Color in a way is a receptacle for a feeling and a way for you to hold it until understanding arrives or meaning is extracted.” Sam Francis’ artwork further investigated perceptions of light and color by contrasting glowing jewel tones with large areas of white. White in Sam Francis’ art does not function simply as a ground against which he applies color. Rather, the white areas are dynamically engaged in active communication with the colors. For Francis each color had a symbolic value: white corresponded to the infinite, blue to the cosmos and water, and yellow to the sun.

Sam Francis - Untitled - Monotype
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. Sam 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. Sam Francis’ art is a dynamic and sophisticated juxtaposition between color and space, a luminous conversation played out in strokes of lush color.

Visit our website for more available prints by Sam Francis.

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