Sam Francis (American, 1923-1994)

SFP59-49, 1959

SFP59-49, 1959

Oil with mixed media on canvas 32 1/4 in. x 24 in. (81.92 cm x 60.96 cm)

Crocker Art Museum, gift of the Sam Francis Foundation, California


  • Although enrolled across the Bay at the University of California, Berkeley, Sam Francis associated with the students and staff at the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco, where he was exposed to the teachings of David Park, Mark Rothko, and Clyfford Still. Francis responded to the freedom and intellectual rigor associated with Abstract Expression ism, adopting its practice as his own visual language. Today, he is the best-known representative of the Bay Area’s second wave of Abstract Expressionism, although his own time there was limited. In 1950, Francis moved to Paris, spending the next decade traveling throughout Europe and Japan. In Paris, the other American painters he associated with included Al Held and Joan Mitchell, and he significantly influenced them as well as those French artists who were beginning to explore Abstract Expressionism or Art Informel. Francis’s use of paint “cor puscles,” clusters of cell-shaped dabs of color on a white field developed during this time, and he began to restrict himself to simple geometric forms and a limited palette of primary hues. In 1962, Francis returned to California, settling in Santa Monica, where he continued to realize the inspiration of the direct experience of nature, especially the quality of California light. The significance of this is marked by the increasing role that negative space played in the balance of his compositions. He also branched out in his choice of mediums, becoming a practitioner of watercolor and of printmaking, producing a large number of lithographs in color and black and white during the 1960s and ’70s.

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