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Sam Francis ( 1923 – 1994) was an American artist who worked in painting, lithography and mono-typing. He was born Samuel Lewis Francis in San Mateo, California in 1923. He briefly served in the US Army Air Corps during World War II, but had to be discharged after a fateful test flight crash that resulted in extensive injuries.
Francis would spend several years in the hospital. As a means of occupying his mind and expressing his emotions, he began to paint. Before his enlistment and injury, he had studied medicine and botany, but after his recovery he attended the University of California, Berkeley, where he earned a master’s degree in fine art and art history in 1950.
After graduation, Francis left California and set up a studio in Paris France. He studied the works of painters like Monet and struck up a friendship with Pierre Matisse, the art dealer and son of the Expressionist painter, Henri Matisse. He gained notoriety for his paintings while in Paris and began to travel the world.
Francis was part of a new movement within Abstract Expressionism. The original movement, born of the angst and uncertainty following the Great Depression and the First World War, was meant to blend abstract forms with color and gestural painting to express the artist’s internal feelings and conflicts.
By contrast, the artists of Francis’ generation meant to capture the thoughts and feelings of the viewer; instead of attempting to take the viewer on the artist’s journey, they were attempting to lead the viewer to a journey of their own.
Sam Francis was a filter through which the elements used by great painters were synthesized and made new again as he soaked up their works and began to create his own unique style. He took the formless shapes, splashes and splatters from the Action painters like Jackson Pollock. He used the vibrant colors from Expressionists like Van Gogh. From his time in Japan and his study of Zen Buddhism, he took the idea of using the negative white space of the canvas and made it an element unto itself.
In his personal pursuits, Francis was just as eclectic as his painting style. As well as drawing and painting, he was fond of lithography, mono-typing and other printing techniques. He opened his own lithography studio in 1970, the Litho Shop, where he experimented with printing and etching. In 1984, he established the Lapis Press; like it’s founder the publishing house was, and still is, interested in many things: poetry, art, artists, fiction, philosophy, and even psychology.
Francis established studios all over the world: Tokyo, Bern, Paris, New York, and several in his native California. He died in Santa Monica in 1994, he made 150 small paintings during the last year of his life.
Sam Francis had a unique style and his impact on the generations of painters that he influenced, during his lifetime and since, live on.