Untitled

Create your first list.

A way to share and manage lots.

Cancel
  • Provenance

    André Emmerich Gallery, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1989

  • Exhibited

    New York, André Emmerich Gallery, Sam Francis: New Paintings, February 2 - 25, 1989

  • Literature

    Debra Burchett-Lere, ed., Sam Francis: Catalogue Raisonné of Canvas and Panel Paintings 1946-1994, Berkeley, 2011, no. SFF.1563, DVD I (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    “These are some of Francis’s most powerful paintings, for he was working at a peak of emotional intensity that he perhaps had never attained before…. The resulting works are of a physical and expressive magnitude virtually without parallel in the history of modern art.” – William C. Agee

    Taking a prime position among Sam Francis’s late paintings, Untitled, 1988-1989, envelops the viewer into a galaxy of pure color and gesture. With its sweeping arcs and dynamic spatter of paint equally calling to mind the action painting of Jackson Pollock and the Gutai group, as well as the “flung-ink” style of Japanese calligraphy, this work powerfully evinces how Francis bridged Eastern and Western philosophies and artistic traditions in his practice. Painted in 1988-1989, this monumental painting was created in tandem with its sister work, Untitled, which resides in the collection of the Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art in Japan. Acquired by Miles and Shirley Fiterman shortly after its execution, Untitled belongs to the ambitious work Francis continued to undertake in the last decade of his life and whose impact is so powerful that William C. Agee declared these works to be "of a physical and expressive magnitude virtually without parallel in the history of modern art” (William C. Agee, “Sam Francis: A Painter’s Dialogue with Color, Light, and Space”, in Sam Francis: Catalogue Raisonné of Canvas and Panel Paintings 1946-1994, Berkeley, 2011, p. 115).

    The visceral drips and pourings of paint that animate Untitled bear witness to Francis’s early experimentations in Abstract Expressionism some four decades earlier. While Francis was indeed at first associated with the New York School, he forged a highly independent path in developing a personal style of abstraction – variously incorporating impulses from the great French tradition of color and light that he encountered living in Paris in the 1950s, as well as inspired by his frequent travels to Japan beginning in 1957. While representing a continuation of many of the core themes in Francis’s practice, late works such as the present one exemplified a distinct shift in the artist’s practice. As William C. Agee observed, "He had abandoned the touch of Monet, Bonnard, Matisse, and Rothko for a raw, visceral paint surface more in the tradition of van Gogh and the early Still, or a Pollock gone mad...” (William C. Agee, “Sam Francis: A Painter’s Dialogue with Color, Light, and Space”, in Sam Francis: Catalogue Raisonné of Canvas and Panel Paintings 1946-1994, Berkeley, 2011, p. 115).

    Painted in 1988-1989 at the height of Francis’s international recognition, Untitled exemplifies a palpable energy and exuberant joie-de-vivre that belie the increasing health issues Francis was experiencing at the time. Just as Francis had begun painting in 1945 as a form of therapy after suffering the onset of spinal tuberculosis, the act of painting here represented an existential affirmation of life in the face of imminent death following his cancer diagnosis in 1989. Defying the inevitable, Francis painted with an energy and extreme physicality that belied the circumstances of his condition in his vast new studio in Venice Beach, Los Angeles.

    Color, which Francis often referred to as lava or molten stone, takes center stage in these so-called “magma-lava paintings”. As William C. Agee has observed “He attacked the canvas, now even larger than before, with massive formations of some of the most powerful and intense color he had ever used. His paint pooled and flowed as if it were molten lava or primal matter” (William C. Agee, “Sam Francis: A Painter’s Dialogue with Color, Light, and Space”, Sam Francis: Catalogue Raisonné of Canvas and Panel Paintings 1946-1994, Berkeley, 2011, p. 115). This analogy to nature is perhaps not surprising given Francis’s conception of the expanse of the white canvas as a realm to engage with the elemental and metaphysical forces of creation.

    Francis was particularly fascinated by the Carl Gustave Jung's notion of alchemy, taking it as conceptual basis to conceive of painting as the transformation of the ancient elements of earth, water, air and fire. Color, symbolizing the very animating force of life itself, as such becomes the essence and substance of Francis’s abstract paintings. As with many of Francis's later paintings, Untitled evokes the earth not only through its palette of deep greens and blues, but also through the gestural application of paint. As Pontus Hulten observed of the latter effect, “The power contained is so great that it looks like it would ignite by its own command, like in a volcano or like in an atomic explosion” (Pontus Hulten, Sam Francis, exh. cat., Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Bonn, 1993, p. 30).This connection takes on deeper meaning when considering that Untitled’s sister painting was created specifically for the 1989 Hiroshima-themed exhibition at the Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art in Japan.

    Speaking to Francis’s fascination with Zen Buddhist teachings and the writings of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustave Jung, Untitled exemplifies, as Howard N. Fox has put forward, that “the spiritual – perhaps – mystical basis of Sam Francis’s art is nowhere more manifest than in his last works” (Howard Fox, Sam Francis, The Last Works, exh. cat., Galleri Faurschou, Copenhagen, 1999, p. 12). As with his mandala paintings of the 1970s, Francis here summons the wholeness of the cosmos through the circular composition of gestural, sweeping brushstrokes. The void at its center beckons the viewer to enter the space of the space, vividly calling to mind Francis’s aphorism, “The space at the center of these paintings is reserved for you” (Sam Francis, 1985, quoted in Debra Burchett-Lere, Sam Francis: The Artist’s Materials, Los Angeles, 2019, p. 3).

Ο119

Property from the Miles and Shirley Fiterman Collection

Untitled

acrylic on canvas
84 x 120 in. (213.4 x 304.8 cm)
Painted in 1988-1989.

Estimate
$350,000 - 450,000 

sold for $450,000

Contact Specialist
John McCord
Head of Day Sale, Morning Session
New York
+1 212 940 1261
jmccord@phillips.com

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale Morning Session

New York Auction 15 May | On View at 432 and 450 Park Avenue