The 1950’s were a period of both critical success and enormous artistic change for Francis. In 1950, Francis moved to Paris, and it was there that his unique brand of Abstract Expressionism, defined by thin veils of color and soft, biomorphic forms, attracted international acclaim. His paintings from that time are glimmering curtains of color and light; the artist himself noted, “color is light on fire.” (Pontus Hulten, Sam Francis, Bonn, 1993, p. 38) The soft, densely-packed forms of works like Big Red (1953) recall microscopic views of cells or miniscule organisms, filling the canvas with their wriggling movement. In 1954-55, however, Francis’ paintings undergo an enormous compositional shift. In works that are reminiscent of Matisse’s cut-outs, Francis introduces large areas of white, creating an airiness and lightness that breaks up his earlier, grid-like compositions. Indeed, the appearance of compositional white space was a precursor to the seminal Blue Balls series Francis would produce in the 1960’s. In the present work large, globular blue forms hover over areas of white, seeming to pulsate with a mysterious inner light and energy. Reflecting on these paintings, Francis remarked, “I live in a paradise of hellish blue balls – merely floating, everything floats, everything floats—where I carry this unique mathematics of my imagination through the succession of days towards a nameless tomorrow.” (Peter Selz, Sam Francis, New York, 1975, p. 80) His forms are still biomorphic, but now, the undulating shapes could be planets or atoms, cellular or galactic, microscopic or the entire cosmos.
Deux Magots, from 1959-60, marks Francis’ transition from his earlier, cellular grids to the impending “paradise” of the Blue Balls. In Deux Magots, as Francis noted, “everything floats”-effervescent blue orbs hover in the left corners, while a cluster of yellow dabs and globs drift buoyantly towards the top of the frame. A blue shape with a glowing center dominates the right side of the composition, leaving behind exuberant trails of dripping blue paint as it floats upward. The entire painting pulsates and shifts; indeed, the work seems to transform before us, oscillating between Francis’ artistic styles. This sensation of metamorphosis also reflects the changes Francis was experiencing in his personal life during this time. In 1959-60, Francis was constantly on the move between Paris, New York, Bern, and Tokyo; his days as a resident Parisian were over. In a backward glance, however, the title of this painting nostalgically refers to Francis’ favorite café in Paris, Les Deux Magots. The "landmark" Parisian café was notorious as a fertile creative environment where great minds convened, such as Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, Simone de Beauvoir, among others. Francis’ sense of personal upheaval—as an artist and as an individual—is exquisitely tangible in the turbulent, energetic, and organic forms and composition of Deux Magots.
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