Sam Francis (1923 – 1994)
In the summer of 1923, one of the twentieth century’s most profound Abstract Expressionists artists, Sam Lewis Francis, was born in San Mateo, California. Sam Francis enrolled in the University Of California at Berkeley in 1941. There he studied psychology and a pre-medical course before dropping out to join the United States Army Air Corps. This is where Sam Francis was to develop his artistic genius through a twist of medical fate. A spinal injury prompted him to take up painting and the rest they say is history, as artist Sam Francis is today one of America’s most renowned Abstract Expressionist artists.
Sam Francis was influenced by artists Clyfford Styll and Mark Rothko. During his lifetime he created thousands of paintings, artwork on paper, prints and monotypes. These various mediums of Sam Francis artwork have been showcased in major museum collections and institutions around the world. Sam Francis art was highly influenced by New York abstract expressionism, color field painting, Chinese and Japanese art (where he visited in 1957), French impressionism and Bay Area roots.
He applied a robust style of atmospheric color to his paintings of the 1950s that make his works unique from the normal harsh, anxiety-ridden canvases of the first generation Abstract expressionists. Sam Francis art is not only revered for its historical relevance to aesthetic vision but also for his in-depth mind and soul he puts into his artwork. This is why artist Sam Francis is regarded as a contemporary renaissance man.
Through the transformative phase of his career, Sam Francis familiarized himself with the study of Monet’s Water Lilies and was greatly influenced by his close relationship with the Matisse family and artists Al Held, Joan Mitchell, and Jean-Paul Riopelle. After earning an art degree at Cal Berkeley in 1950, artist Sam Francis would go on to be named “the hottest American painter in Paris these days” by Time Magazine. Sam Francis’ interest in creative arts was expansive and he was able to delve into technology, psychology, science, medicine, and he also became an advocate for environmental protection.
Sam Francis married his first wife, Vera Miller, in 1947 while he was recovering from the spinal cord injury he sustained while in the army. However the marriage didn’t last long and he also didn’t have much luck with other women as he ultimately married 4 other woman. His fifth was the English painter Margaret Smith who gave him a son named, Augustus. He also had another son, Shingo from his ex wife Mako Kawase.
Artist Sam Francis had an adventurous spirit and this led him to travel the world extensively to study. He also maintained art studios in different parts of the world in places like Berlin, Paris, Tokyo, Mexico City, New York and Northern and Southern California. His travels gave him a different perspective on art and painting styles techniques and cultural influences, which helped to shape his growth of his own dialogue and style of painting. Sam Francis possessed a lyrical and gestural hand, enabling him to capture and record the brilliance, energy and intensity of color at different moments of time and periods of his life. Sam Francis paintings embody his love of literature, music and science, while reflecting his deep range of emotions and personal turmoil. His art is shaped by many visual indicators reminiscent of the “action painting” or art informel schools of Abstract Expressionism. The thing that stood Sam Francis out as a unique painter was his technique of tachisme, in which heavy blotches of free-flowing oil paints were allowed to drip down and, in the process, create an accidental design. In the Sam Francis artwork “In Blue Balls VII”, which was part of the 1964 Post-Painterly Abstraction exhibit, Francis used far less paint than he was accustomed to. The finished product showcases razor thin lines of blue paint that cascade down from the more noticeable blotches applied throughout the canvas.
In 1962, Sam Francis settled in Santa Monica and worked extensively for the next thirty years with the medium of printmaking as well as with his oil painting. He was one of the first artists to try out “empty-center” paintings and created paintings that had pigment stains on the periphery and much open space where other normal canvases were filled with paint. But in the year 1970, the viewer will find that Sam Francis art abandoned the “empty-center” method.
In the later years of his life, Sam Francis invested heavily in research to find creative solutions to non-renewable energy sources and cures for AIDs. In all these aspects of life, Sam Francis explored the nature of creativity, what drives it, the relevance of testing new ideas through experimentation as well as the roles of imagination, intuition and knowledge. The Sam Francis Foundation which was created in his honor is dedicated to expanding his sense of wonder, his desire to explore and his life force to be creative.
Artist Sam Francis had such a love for creating art that he would physically exhaust himself artistically even though he was incapacitated in his final years. While in poor health, and with a crippled right hand (he even painted with an IV in his arm for a few days) Sam Francis still painted one hundred and fifty small pictures, working until he had no more energy and they had to put him back to bed.
Sam Francis passed away on November 4, 1995 at the age of seventy-one.
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