Francis always had a spiritual connection with painting and Blue Painting is a true testament to this. In 1960 during another trip in Tokyo that he fell ill with renal tuberculosis and the act of painting became Francis’ spiritual medicine . In Blue Painting, we see Francis exorcise the indwelling pain of his illness, he expels it. The autobiographical titles of these works imply Sam Francis’ cynical sense of humour demonstrating his colourful take on life.
In the late 1950s he experimented with space and balance more profoundly. In 1957, he embarked on a tour around the world and spent some time in Japan. It is no coincidence that his quest for painterly balance appeared at that time. In Tokyo, he found a new fascination with Zen Buddhism and its meditative practices. The pursuit for total balance between the physical and spiritual influenced him profoundly and he went on to create his Japan Line series. In 1958-59, back in Paris, he developed his White Line series in which he created a harmonious tension with a linear white space squeezed between blocks of vibrant colours. In Paris, Francis discovered Henri Matisse’s works and was inspired by his paintings of open windows and his figurative nude cut out works from the early 50s. Those compositions of simple blue forms left a profound mark on him and helped him find the ‘balance between the emotional and the formal in a way that he never would again” (R. Smith, Review/Art; Sam Francis, at the Height of His Powers, The New York Times, June 7, 1991)
Francis famously stated that ‘painting is about the beauty of space and the power of containment.’ Blue Painting flawlessly embodies exactly those words. Blue had always fascinated Sam Francis as many of his earlier pictures convey, but it is only in this short period of less than three years that he fully immerses himself in the power and luminosity of his blue forms which surrounds the tranquility of the white space.
As art historian William Agee wrote in his essay for Francis’s catalogue raisonné: “these paintings participate in the heightened openness and clarity of the art of the 1960s; a development, it should be remembered, that Francis himself had helped to define and effect.” (William Agee, Sam Francis: A Painter’s Dialogue with Color, Light and Space, in cat. rais. of Canvas and Panel Paintings, p. 94).
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