Lot 1014
  • 1014

Sam Francis

3,500,000 - 5,500,000 HKD
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  • Sam Francis
  • Untitled
  • executed in 1985
  • oil on canvas
numbered SPF 85-107


Private Collection (through Nantenshi Galley in 1990)
Private Asian Collection
Acquired by the present owner from the above


Debra Burchett-Lere, Sam Francis: Catalogue Raisonné of Canvas and Panel Paintings, 1946-1994, Berkeley, 2011, cat. no. SFF.1168, illustrated in color on the DVD

Catalogue Note

Executed in 1968, this work is included in the Sam Francis: Catalogue Raisonné of Canvas and Panel Paintings, published by the University California Berkeley Press (UC Press: 2011) under the No. SFF.1168 and is also registered in the archives of the Sam Francis Foundation with the No. SFP85-107. This information is subject to change as scholarship continues by the Sam Francis Foundation.

The Depths of Flight
Sam Francis

 I have been reading a lot of astronomy lately [which] has already influenced my paintings. The paintings have become, since, much more cosmological in feeling and of much greater spatial expansion. Ambivalent spaces which seem to be bounded yet unlimited. And also some that seem to be limited in a certain sense I can't explain and yet unbounded by a frame. – Sam Francis, 1952

Antoine de Saint-Exupery, French author and aviator, wrote that “one of the miracles of the airplane is that it plunges a man directly into the heart of a mystery”. American painter Sam Francis was once a pilot, serving in the United States Air Force during the Second World War. He was injured in a plane crash and received treatment in hospital for several years, and it was during this time that he first began to paint. The experience of flight irrevocably informed Francis’ artistic career: his son Shingo Francis commented that the freedom his father felt while painting reminded him of the freedom and exhilaration he had felt whilst flying.1 Dizzyingly majestic in size and scale, Untitled (1989) (Lot 1014) is a breathtaking, impassioned masterpiece that evokes the intoxicating dynamism of air travel, hurtling viewers towards a deep cosmic unknown.

Executed in 1989, the current lot was painted during the mature heights of the American superstar artist’s fifty-year career. A Californian by birth, Sam Francis forged his early aesthetic in the San Francisco Bay Area, an area that is often overlooked in studies of the evolution of post-war American art. Though he is often associated with the Abstract Expressionists of the late 1940s and early 1950s, Francis never lived in New York. During the 1950s, Francis instead spent long periods of time in Japan, where he was influenced by the Japanese technique of using negative space as well as by East Asian art theory and philosophies. Responding frequently to Eastern thought for the remainder of his career, Francis began to include larger expanse of white spaces in his canvases in order to explore the role of Zen, emptiness and the void.

In an essay for Francis’s 1957 exhibition in Berlin, Arnold Rüdlinger wrote: “He is familiar with Eastern thought. The last gouches show he knows how to employ silence and the void of Oriental painting as artistic means of expression”.2 Other aspects of Francis’s works reveal traces of traditional Japanese haboku landscapes: the horizontal format, the asymmetry, and the splashed ink reminiscent of Eastern calligraphy. It is this marriage of the East and West that enables Francis to achieve a singularly sublime balance between vitality and serenity, exuberance and mystery. The emotional charge that emanates from his canvases is at once joyful and contemplative, resulting in a deeply enchanting, simultaneously meditative and mesmerising, aesthetic.

Throughout his career Francis was fascinated with colour and light: the brilliant cerulean blue prevalent in the current lot is his signature, autographic colour, appearing in the best examples of his work. Aside from the deep blue, the complementing islands of colour splashed masterfully on the canvas harness the inimitable force of light as if to access a higher spiritual order: the artist speaks of being “intoxicated” with light, which is “not just the play of light and shadow, but the substance of which light is made”.While inherently abstract, Francis’s forms are also distinctly organic and biomorphic, seemingly inspired by cosmic planetary bodies as well as the movement of molecular life. With deep, vivid hues complemented by blazing expanses of sublime whiteness, the monumental canvas exudes a hypnotizing vibrancy and divine fervor that transcends the worldly, plunging viewers headlong into the depths of the unfathomable and the infinite.


1 John Seed, “Basel Mural I” by Sam Francis: An Artist at the Height of his Powers”, Huffington Post, 2011

2 P. Selz, Sam Francis, New York, 1975, p. 65

3 The artist cited in “New Talent,” Time, January 1956, p. 72