This work is identified with the archival identification number SFF.654 in consideration for the forthcoming addendum to the Sam Francis: Catalogue Raisonné of Canvas and Panel Paintings, to be published by the Sam Francis Foundation. This information is subject to change as scholarship continues by the Sam Francis Foundation.
Following in the footsteps of the quintessentially American art of the Abstract Expressionists of the late 1940s, Sam Francis’ discovery of European abstraction during his time spent in Paris in the early 1950s, and crucially his exposure to the work of Zao Wou-Ki, Chu Teh-Chun and subsequently the Japanese Gutai artists, instilled his practice with a uniquely varied range of approaches to abstraction. Captivated by Asian philosophy, Sam Francis adapted his style in the mid-1950s to introduce large areas of white, creating an airiness and lightness that breaks up his earlier grid-like all-over compositions of color.
Although the use of vibrant colors characterizes much of Sam Francis’ oeuvre, the sharp juxtaposition with white fields that brings compositional clarity to the canvas is arguably as important to the artist’s unique aesthetic. In the present work we see the skillful manipulation of not only the paint itself but also of the blank canvas behind. These intentionally visible intervals of white beneath the composition are the culmination of decades of exploration that involved going from one extreme to the other; completely covering the canvas from edge to edge, and then clearing the canvas leaving only bars of color to remain along the outskirts. Through each transition of Francis’ career it was this field of white space that kept him completely enchanted, choreographing and maneuvering the paint until he found the perfect compositional balance.
The present work from 1974 perfectly encapsulates the artist’s original exploration of abstract painting. Indeed Sam Francis’ practice, which spanned decades, rather feels like an infinite search for the moment when light, color, space and composition come together seamlessly. Francis finally perfected this balance of elements during the final decades of his career, as exemplified in the present work.
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