Modern Master: Sam Francis


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FrancisSam Francis (1923-1994) American painter and printmaker was born in San Mateo, California. He is renowned for his California Abstract Expressionist work and is one of the most prominent artists from San Francisco. His career as an artist started following an accident leading to spinal tuberculosis while serving in the US Army Air Corps. He started to paint for distraction in 1944, and studied privately under David Park in 1947. He subsequently relinquished his earlier medical and psychology studies in favor of painting, completing his BA (1949) and MA (1950) at the University of California at Berkeley. During this period he experimented with different styles of painting, notably Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism. In particular, Francis was influenced by the Abstract Expressionist works of Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Clifford Still. He soon emerged with his own unique styles of painting in the late 1940’s. During the late 1950’s, Francis traveled to Japan and his later works seem to be influenced by Oriental art with thin paint texture and large void spaces. The saturated fields of color reveal the influence of the contemplative quality of Japanese art. The increasing simplicity of his later works resembled Minimal Art.With his sensitivity to sensuous color and light, Francis showed very different style from the many other Abstract Expressionists Artists. .Francis was primarily interested in transforming different sensations of light onto canvas and creating shapes painted in fluid, which circulate freely around his canvas, indicating what was to become a perennial concern with “ceaseless instability.”

Despite the apparent spontaneity of his compositions, Francis was highly methodical and rigorous. In his later work he pushed out the abstract forms to the edges of the composition, leaving large empty spaces, again in accordance with the Oriental notion of negative space.

Although he is more renowned for his paintings, Francis was also an accomplished printmaker and sculptor. The work of Sam Francis is held in the permanent collection of every encyclopedic modern art museum in the world. Sam Francis’ works have been exhibited internationally for over fifty years. He is represented in numerous public and private collections throughout the United States, Europe, and Japan.