Sam Francis

1923 (San Mateo) - 1994 (Santa Monica)

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Portrait de Sam Francis en noir et blanc


Sam Lewis Francis called Sam Francis, was born in San Mateo, California in 1923.

Before his artistic career, Sam Francis studied botany, mathematics and psychology at UC Berkeley.

During World War II, in 1943, he enlisted as a US Air Force pilot, but his airplane crashed during training. His spinal cord badly damaged, Sam Francis spent several years in a hospital bed. It was during this period that he tried his hand at art. Bedridden, he received a box of watercolors and began to paint his surroundings. In this period he was already interested in the effects of the abstract shapes of clouds and sky. Painting become an outlet, a vital therapy for the young convalescent: “I left the hospital through my painting,” he said. No doubt we owe to this episode the philosophical and almost physiological depth that will always unite Francis to the act of creating.

David Park, from the California School of Fine Art, visited him often and encouraged him to express himself though painting. He introduced him to a large number of artists, such as Picasso or Mirò, by bringing him works of modern art from a local private collection.

Upon his recovery, the young painter began to study art at Berkeley, and then in 1946 he decided to follow the lessons of the abstract master Clyfford Still, American pioneer of non-figurative art, who would go to exert a great influence on the young American generation of artists.

In 1950, Francis settled in the Paris of the avant-garde. In total, he spent nearly 11 years living in France (until 1961), between Paris and the south of the country.

In 1952 his first solo exhibition took place in Paris. Inspired by color-field painting, practiced by some of his most famous compatriots, he was also influenced by Tachism, bringing him very close to the French Movement called  “Abstraction Lyrique,” and its painters, such as Hans Hartung, Georges Mathieu or Gérard Schneider, who were all quite famous at the time in the French Capital.

Sam Francis works on white backgrounds. On a virgin canvas, the artist lets the colors explode in projections and drips, in strong contrast with the white that is surrounded by color.

Francis experimented with all dimensions and supports (especially paper, his favorite medium), in series with organic, mosaic shapes, or even sometimes figures and “linin” shapes (1965-69).

In the 1960’s, the botanist-artist revealed the beauty of Nature through paintings of colored smoke, projected into the sky from a helicopter.

In the 1970’s, his taste for psychology inspired his artistic work. Deeply interested in the Jungian theory of the unconscious, and in in esoterism, he begins to create paintings made of primitive, essential shapes – grids, mandalas -as well as self-portraits.

A little later, he creates his famous series of “Instant Paintings,” with a new free technique, producing harmonious splashes of bright colors on a white background.

Sam Francis died in Santa Monica in 1994.