During this pivotal year, Francis left Paris after a stay of eight years to travel around the world, and experienced the ever-changing qualities of different light whilst becoming predisposed to various traditional techniques. Japan in particular made a profound and long-lasting impression on the artist. He not only amassed many Japanese benefactors and friends but importantly kept a studio in Tokyo for the rest of his life. Francis was very taken by the traditional arts of Japanese Haboku and Hatsuboku– abstracted landscape paintings made with splashes of ink. The deep-rooted influence and respect of East Asian aesthetics and philosophy can unquestionably be seen when looking at the almost calligraphically articulated shapes and hatsuboku-like gestural splashes of freely cast watercolour displayed in Untitled.
The luminosity of the rich colours swirling and dripping in an exquisitely subtle pattern is heightened by the stretch of untouched ivory paper that elevates them from below. Francis’ acknowledgement of white as a colour in its own right echoes the important Buddhist concept of ‘the void’. More than the detachment from worldly pursuits, the notion of the void in Oriental philosophy applies to “intellectual activities and aesthetic delights”; it is “the lasting peace of silence, the bliss of annihilation” (Ray Billington, Understanding Eastern Philosophy, London 1997, p. 145). Contrasting with the graceful yet dynamic bursts of fiery gold and cobalt, the immaculate background constitutes a strong, grounding force, a vibrating presence. For Sam Francis, white is “ringing silence, an endless, ultimate point at the end of your life” (Sam Francis quoted in Peter Selz, Sam Francis, New York 1975, p. 64); whilst colour is “light on fire. Each colour is the result of burning, for each substance burns with a particular colour” (Sam Francis quoted in: Jan Butterfield, Sam Francis, Los Angeles 1980, pp. 9-10).
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