Alan Wheatley Art

Sam Francis Artist Biography  American, 1923-1994

Sam Francis was late to start his successful and brilliant career as an artist. He first attended the University of California, Berkeley, where he studied botany, medicine and psychology. Shortly thereafter, Francis served in the United States Air Force during WWII where he suffered injury in a plane crash. His artistic career began soon after being released from the hospital when he returned to Berkeley to study art.

Initially, Francis was influenced and inspired by the works of Abstract Expressionists Mark Rothko and Arshile Gorky. He lived in Paris during the 1950s where he became associated with Taschisme. This is where Francis’s spontaneous and impromptu brush work, drips and scribbles of paint from the brush or directly from the tube heavily characterized his work. In 1952 he had his first one-man-show in Paris and became an accepted as a member of the young European avant-garde, he showed his work at exhibitions in Paris, London and Bern.

After Paris, he spent some time in India, Thailand and Japan, which led to the influences of Zen Buddhism in his work. Participation in 'Twelve Americans', an exhibition mounted in New York by the Museum of Modern Art in 1956, made Francis well-known in America. During this period his style changed from compositions with the picture surface covered in monochrome values to brightly coloured 'islands of colour' on white canvases. His calligraphic handling of brushwork and the lyrical character of his fluid colour now linked Francis with Far Eastern art, which he studied intensively.

Francis returned to California in 1962, settling at first in Santa Barbara and then establishing a studio in Venice, Santa Monica in 1963. During the 1960s Francis developed his own distinctive style of Spontaneous and Gestural Dripping. He guided oils, acrylic and watercolours across his canvases with circling and spraying movements.

Sam Francis was not only a distinguished exponent of Action Painting. He also explored graphic media such as lithography, etching and monotype. His preoccupation with printmaking led to the production of striking experimental work in the early 1980s. Forcefully expressive compositions in several parts, some of them with running paint, are the hallmark of these years. In his final phase, Francis executed commissions for large-scale murals.

Public collections include:
Art Institute of Chicago, IL, USA
Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA
National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, Japan
Norton Simon Museum, California, USA
Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, USA
Tate, London

< back to Artists