October 9, 2016


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Lot 288: Sam Francis

Lot 288: Sam Francis

Untitled (SFM81-119)

Monotype of dry pigment, inks, and oils on paper
Signed lower right sheet
Sheet: 29" x 25"; Frame: 39" x 35"
Together with copy of exhibition catalogue
Provenance: Private Collection, Santa Monica, California (acquired directly from the artist)
Exhibited: "Sam Francis Works on Paper 1953-1986: The Ranchito Collection," The Roy and Frances Brandstater Gallery, Loma Linda University, Riverside, February 19-March 19, 1987
Illustrated: Sam Francis Works on Paper 1953-1986: The Ranchito Collection. The Roy and Frances Brandstater Gallery exh. cat. 1987. #21.
Estimate: $12,000 - $18,000
Price Realized: $21,250
Inventory Id: 23287

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Among the great postwar American painters, Sam Francis (1923—1994) stands out for his virtuosic use of color. The artist discovered his craft in unusual circumstances, only picking up a brush in 1945, while in recovery from an injury that he sustained during a test flight in 1943. Francis was serving in the U.S. Air Force at the time and this was his first foray into art, having studied medicine, botany, and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. Of this period, Francis said: "Painting became a way back to life for me. Now it is no longer that but a way of life. But in those four years on my back it was life itself. I painted to stay alive." Francis was particularly influenced by the Abstract Expressionists Clyfford Still and Mark Rothko, and his own work became associated with the second generation of Color Field artists, like Helen Frankenthaler. However, his formative years were spent in Paris where he studied the work of Matisse and Monet, and came into contact with Art Informel, a European movement similar to action painting. His work from this time was primarily abstract monochrome painting and he began to carefully insert expanses of white amidst the color, which would later become his signature aesthetic. Showing predominantly in Europe throughout the 1950s, he first found fame in 1956, when his work was included in the group exhibition, 12 Americans, at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. He eventually settled in California in 1962.

Lots 284—288 were all acquired directly from the artist and reveal the depth and range of Francis's œuvre. In Untitled (SF62–020), Lot 284, created in 1962, thick daubs of primary-colored paint dominate the upper corner of the work. Explosive drops of red, blue, and yellow striate the picture plane and are offset by a vast expanse of white ground. Francis's distinctive use of negative space can be traced back to his fascination with the asymmetrical compositions and spontaneous brushwork of Japanese calligraphic art, which the artist studied during his travels in Europe and Japan. Francis began using acrylic paint more regularly in the 1960s, which he sometimes combined with oil paint, drawing on technical innovations developed during his printmaking and casting aside the formal conventions of painting.

The dynamism of Francis's approach to painting is further apparent in Untitled (SF66–100), Lot 287, in which broad strokes of vibrant red, green, yellow, and blue form a border around a small, blank space. The visible brushstrokes convey the powerful and expressive way in which this work on paper was executed. Highly pigmented drops are splattered confidently across the paper in a manner reminiscent of Jackson Pollock's drip technique. The work was painted in Paris in 1966 and demonstrates the artist's considerable skills with brilliant color, something Francis held dear. "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." Francis dedicated himself to achieving the saturated tones of his work, working with rich custom-made tints with a high ratio of solid pigment to liquid from 1970 onward. These hues were often incredibly rare and obscure. Francis continued to experiment into the latter stages of his career, incorporating commercial brands of acrylic emulsion as well as printing inks in his paintings.

"Sam Francis." Artists. Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, n.d. Web. 17 Aug. 2016. "Sam Francis: The Exploration of Color," Sotheby's, n.d. Web. 17 Aug. 2016. Zebala, Aneta, Tom Learner and Rachel Rivenc. "Notes on Sam Francis's Painting Methods and Materials in Two Grid Paintings." Sam Francis Foundation, n.d. Web. 17 Aug. 2016.