Sam Francis' chromatically resplendent Untitled from 1958 triumphantly deploys the masterful handling of color and abstract gesture indicative of the very best of Francis' corpus. A master of the organic liquidity of watercolor, the medium with which Francis first developed his artistic talents during a period of hospitalization during World War II, his works on paper are widely perceived as among the most superlative of his celebrated oeuvre. Executed in 1958 at the very apotheosis of the artist's foundational development in Paris during the 1950s, the present large scale watercolor underlines the extraordinary dexterity of Francis' treatment of form and color, particularly the emblematic abyssal blue which by 1957 had become his signature. Testament to a wealth of art historical influences ranging from Mark Rothko, Claude Monet and Henri Matisse, to Giotto's frescos in Padua and Chinese ink painting, Francis' practice extrapolates and transmutes the hegemony of color into a biomorphic engagement with color as ascendant form. By negotiating a topography of non-representation, Francis opens a window onto the absolute and the void of representation to deliver a transfiguration of the pictorial surface. By privileging a resplendent blue at the end of the 1950s, Francis evoked an artistic dialogue with blue's transcendent potentiality as a conduit of the eternal. Indeed, in Untitled Francis evokes the mystical capacity of blue as first identified by Kandinsky with his Blaue Reiter almanac in 1911, thereafter taken up contemporaneously by Yves Klein in the late 1950s with his IKB monochromes.
Dominated by interlocking organic clusters of deep blue punctuated with diaphanous hues of red, yellow and green, the present work charts a lyrical dialectic between chaos and order, absence and presence. Immersed in the French coloristic tradition, with recourse even to the centuries-old academic rivalry between line and color, Francis' paintings are essays on the power of color to deliver a pure expression of act and gesture. For Francis "color holds feelings"; indeed, this work truly substantiates the artist's proclamation that "color was the real substance for me, the real underlying thing which drawing and painting are not... colors are intensities." (William C. Agee, "Sam Francis: Coming of Age in the Mother City," in Exh. Cat. New York, L&M Arts, Sam Francis, 2009, p. 13).
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