Sam Francis - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Wednesday, May 16, 2018 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Jonathan Novak Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
    Christie's, New York, February 28, 2007, lot 388
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    “I am in love with paper”
    Sam Francis

    Each executed between the years of 1965 and 1990, the following selection of masterworks on paper by Sam Francis showcase the California-based artist’s career-long preoccupation with color and composition. Occupying a unique time in Francis’ prolific oeuvre, these works succeed the Abstract Expressionist movement while still retaining some of the dynamic qualities of works by Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock. In the 1960s when the first of these works was created, Francis would come to be associated with a new generation of artists experimenting in “post-painterly abstraction”, a term coined by art critic Clement Greenberg in 1964. The five present lots beautifully epitomize the central pillars of this categorization—clarity and openness.

    The earliest of these works, both executed in 1965 partially or wholly at the artist’s studio in Tokyo, illustrate the importance of the white picture plane in Francis’ post-painterly abstract practice, as strokes of paint collide along the borders of the sheet, surrounding what the artist has called “the quiet center” of light. These works on paper belong to the artist’s “edge paintings”, all of which strove to showcase the power of color by placing it around an overwhelming presence of contrasting white. With active brushwork likened to the dynamic approach of Pollock, calmed by the inner white space of the composition, each of these works uniquely bridges the expressionist and the post-painterly. While lot 127 showcases more translucent pigments of red, pink, blue and green in watercolor and acrylic, lot 128 features a heavier, luminous oil paint on the paper, resulting in richer primary hues of dark blue, red and yellow. Such differences highlight Francis’ unique ability to work across many different painting mediums to achieve the same sense of clarity.

    Untitled works from 1979 and circa 1980-1990, lots 126 and 129, explore a different side of Francis’ visual practice—the geometric. In intimate scale, lot 129 features only violet and blue hues to fill the sheet with an imperfect shape. The preference for the pseudo-monochrome here harkens back to Francis’ love for the color blue established early on in his career. The outer and inner contours of the form are darkened with an almost black-blue color, highlighting the contrast of the thinly applied hues within and white paper beneath. Similarly, lot 126, executed in much larger scale, unveils a sense of orderly abstraction, the composition anchored by a rich blue grid extending horizontally across the sheet. This masterwork belongs to a time in Francis’ oeuvre when he was preoccupied with grids and mandala shapes, informed by philosophical readings on Zen spiritual practices. Here, the integrity of the foundational grid is interrupted by almost fluorescent yellow and fiery orange hues splattered at random, while primary colors help ground the composition.

    The last of the lots from the following selection is uniquely titled A Dream, An Image, Auto Portrait, creating an ambiguous narrative from complete abstraction. Executed in 1990, this work is anchored by a blue shape which almost resembles a heart, obstructed by thin, active splatters of vibrant red. In its title, the work references both the imagined and the real, embodying the contemplative undertones found throughout all of Francis’ abstraction. With the description “Auto Portrait”, the viewer is forced to question whether the work is meant to represent the artist’s own persona. As Francis once said of his painting on paper process, “Images appear, they do not come from somewhere…from the soul. It is stealing from the gods. I want to be the paper.” (Sam Francis, quoted in Pontus Hulten, Sam Francis, exh. cat., Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Bonn, 1993, p. 26) It is for this reason that Francis’ works on paper in particular are imbued with an emotive quality, at once unparalleled by his Abstract Expressionist predecessors and entirely unmatched by his post-painterly abstract contemporaries.



signed, inscribed and dated "Sam Francis Los Angeles 1979" on the reverse
acrylic on rice paper
18 x 57 1/2 in. (45.7 x 146.1 cm.)
Executed in 1979.

This work is identified with the interim identification number of SF79-1018 in consideration for the forthcoming Sam Francis: Catalogue Raisonné of Unique Works on Paper. This information is subject to change as scholarship continues by the Sam Francis Foundation.

$90,000 - 130,000 

Sold for $156,250

Contact Specialist
John McCord
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New York
+1 212 940 1261

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 16 May 2018