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Sam Francis Artist Biography

Sam Francis is best known for his Abstract Expressionist paintings which energetically contrast color and void. Besides paintings and murals, Sam Francis explored a number of media, taking Oriental mysticism as his inspiration. He has had exhibitions around the world and is highly respected. 

Sam Francis was born in 1923 in San Mateo, California. He studied Botany, Medicine and Psychology at the University of California at Berkeley from 1941 to 1943. While serving in the US Air Force he injured his spine in a plane crash and was bedridden for several months with spinal tuberculosis. It was during this time that he began to paint landscapes and views of the sky, eventually leading to his first abstractions in 1947.

In 1950, Sam Francis studied with David Park in San Francisco before returning to Berkeley to take an MA in Fine Arts. The same year, he went to Paris to attend the Academy ‘Fernand Léger’ where his style was heavily influenced by the Art Informel movement as well as the work of Jackson Pollock. In 1952 he had his first one-man show at the Galerie Du Dragon, Paris and this was soon followed by a number of group exhibitions. In 1957, Sam Francis embarked on a world tour taking in such places as Mexico, Thailand, India and Japan. It was Oriental Art that made a lasting impression on the artist. It was the way that the Japanese traditionally regard art as a meditative medium that inspired Sam Francis. The lyrical qualities associated with this form can be seen in 'The Whiteness of the Whale' (1957) for example.

Throughout the Sixties, Sam Francis returned numerous times to Japan and exhibited in Tokyo and Oaka. He was commissioned to produce a 26-foot-long mural for the Segetsu School of Sofu Teshigahora and, becoming fascinated with the possibilities of wall painting, completed a number of other murals for places such as the Chase Manhattan Bank in New York (1959) and the National Gallery of Art in Berlin (1969-1971).

In 1961, Sam Francis returned to California: first Santa Barbara and then Santa Monica. As well as his mural work he continued to paint with the Japanese influence leading him to the development of a style known as Tachisme, in which free-flowing oil paint is allowed to drip down the canvas creating an accidental design. 'Meaningless Gesture' is a good example of this; the canvas is saturated with light, cloud-like forms with thin streams of paint raining down.

During the last few years of his life Sam Francis suffered from prostate cancer and was unable to paint with his right hand after a fall. In a final burst of creative energy, he used his left hand to complete an incredible series of approximately 150 small paintings. He died in 1994.

"The Japanese artist, like the Abstract Expressionist, sees the working process as eliciting a new consciousness that becomes the work, and Sam Francis found himself closely attuned to Japanese aesthetics."

 Peter Selz. 

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