"Forme," Sam Francis wrote, "colour is the real substance, the starting point that precludes both delineation and contours." More than fifty years ago he began to create works of pure abstraction based only on colour works whose power comes from their internal relationships and above all from the colour white. His white paintings from the early 1950's are not monochrome, but are pervaded by mist-like streaks of colour. The pictures are atmospheric, entirely floating in light. The impression was strengthened in subsequent years when Francis painted with stronger colours: red, yellow, black and above all blue, with an intensity to be found only in medieval stained glass windows.
When Francis arrived in Paris in 1950, he was inspired by the city's light, its "beautiful heavenly gray". He also came into contact with the work of Cezanne, van Gogh, Matisse and in particular Bonnard. His interest in these artists confirmed the direction his painting would take towards an emphasis on light and colour. Francis was strongly influenced by the openness and freedom of Monet's waterlily paintings, in which the colours appear to be constantly changing. For a decade blue would come to dominate Francis' increasingly large canvases.
In his works from the mid-1960's, Sam Francis moved colour out towards the edges of his paintings. White was surrounded by colour and became "endless like space stretching between objects...the symbol of all colour." The light in the centre was divided into ail its colours.
During the 1970's, Francis drew his inspiration from Eastern mysticism, but also from Byzantine mosaics and Romanesque frescoes, in which the light source is located in the centre. The white colour identifies itself with the light.
After 1980 Sam Francis liberated colour from the formal net-like structures. Working with all the self-confidence gained from several decades' experience, he experimented with all styles and materials, sizes and scales, erased the boundaries of his art, and arrived at the stage where colour which to him had always embodied feeling, now took on the very substance and power of nature itself.
Sam Francis (1923-1994) was born in San Mateo in the San Francisco Bay area. Following studied painting and art history at UC Berkeley. He lived in both Paris and New York, but from 1962 was based in Santa Monica, California. He had studios in Bern, Paris and Tokyo, and lived and worked in these cities, sometimes for year-long periods.
The major retrospective exhibition at the Malmö' Konsthall
provides a unique opportunity to see Sam Francis' early works.
The exhibition includes approximately 60 paintings and 30 drawings
dating from the end of the 1940's to 1990. The exhibition, shown
earlier at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles and the
Menil Collection, Houston, will have its European premiere at
the Malmö Konsthall. It will continue on to the Museo Nacional
Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid and Galleria Comunale d'Arte
Moderna e Contemporanea in Rome.