Sam Francis

Sam Francis
Round the World, 1958/59
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Sam Francis
Round the World, 1958/59

Oil on canvas, 276.5 x 321.5 cm
Photo: Peter Schibli, Basel

Even though Sam Francis’s work is usually viewed in the context of Abstract Expressionism, it also extends beyond the concept of Action Painting that grew out of the movement. For instance, the painter reasserts tighter control over his brushwork, and while his compositions remain largely abstract, they are closely related to the objective world – in particular to landscape – not least of all through their titles.
Thus, in the large-format painting Round the world the artist appears to describe one of the many swathes of countryside he observed from an aerial perspective as he flew over them on the two round-the-world trips he made in 1957 and 1958. The structure of the colour fields vigorously conveys the impression of a dynamic ‘universal landscape’ viewed from a great altitude. At the same time, Francis’s abstract pictorial idiom reveals the boundless creative possibilities of gestural painting.

Sam Francis
Sam Francis

1932, San Mateo (California) – 1994, Santa Monica (California)

The early monochromatic paintings produced by Sam Francis in Paris transcended the prevailing influence of Art Informel. With his 1953 work Big Red he resumed the American tradition of Colour Field painting, but also found inspiration in the work of various European painters who used ‘suggestive colour’, including Claude Monet, Pierre Bonnard, Paul Gauguin and Henri Matisse. A lasting impression was made on him, in particular, by Monet’s water lily paintings, which inspired him to compose pictorial space from discrete but interrelated cells of colour that generate a loosely woven texture and open up a non-illusionistic depth of field. A further result of his preoccupation with Monet was his use of intense colour hues, especially the triad blue, green and red, which he juxtaposed to produce stark contrasts; through their fluid application, these colours also overlap and trickle down in coloured streaks. “I make the late Monet pure”, Sam Francis purportedly declared in 1950, alluding to his commitment to abstraction [related by Bernard Schultze in a letter to Annelise Hoyer in August 1967].

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