Sam Francis

(San Mateo, California, 1923 - 1994, Santa Monica, California)

North America, American

Known for his large, luminous abstractions, expressive mark-making and inventive use of color, Sam Francis took up painting after leaving the Army Air Corps in 1944 due to illness. This pastime transitioned into a career when Francis earned a BA and MA from the University of California Berkeley. He moved to Paris in 1950, where his study of impressionist painters led to new developments in the use of color, light and white space in his abstract paintings. While in France, Francis exhibited at the Galerie Nina Dausset and Galerie Rive Driote in Paris. The Kunsthalle in Bern, Switzerland, mounted his first museum exhibition in 1955; Martha Jackson Gallery opened his first one-person exhibition in New York in 1956. That same year, Time declared him “the hottest American painter in Paris these days.” Francis returned to California in 1961, settling in Santa Monica but traveling frequently to Japan, where he explored his interests in Eastern religion and philosophy. During the 1960s Francis worked heavily in watercolor and lithography in addition to experimenting with ephemeral environmental works including the performances Sky Painting, conducted with helicopters over Tokyo Bay, and Snow Painting, which featured skiers in Naibara, Japan. Centrally placed rectangles became the focus of the artist’s compositions in the 1970s, and the 1980s brought a return to his gestural, organic forms. Francis’s work can be found in museum collections across the country, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Art Institute of Chicago and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.


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