Pasadena, CA – The Pasadena Museum of California Art (PMCA), is proud to present Sam Francis: Five Decades of Abstract
Expressionism from California Collections, the first major museum exhibition of Francis’s work in over a decade. Known as
one of the twentieth century’s most influential painters of light and color, Sam Francis maintained studios in New York, France,
Switzerland, and Japan, but continually returned to his native California, finishing his last series of paintings in Santa Monica
just before his death in November 1994. The exhibition brings together Francis’s paintings and unique works on paper from
extraordinary public and private California collections, including many paintings on view to the public for the first time.
Born in June 1923 in San Mateo, near San Francisco, Francis started his career in California. He moved to France in 1950, and
by 1956 he was described by Time magazine as “the hottest American painter in Paris these days,” signaling his arrival as one
of the first post-World War II American painters to develop a truly international reputation. Having stated, “Painting is about
the beauty of space and the power of containment,” Francis spent his career investigating that belief through his use of color,
understanding of light, and lyrical rhythmic compositions. His works not only contributed to the range of styles and influences
in the world of painting, he also referenced and responded to the California Bay Area Modernists with his early paintings
from the 1940s to early 1950s; French Impressionism, Abstract Expressionism, and Chinese and Japanese scroll paintings
with his works from the 1950s; and Color Field Painting with paintings in the 1960s. Although his oeuvre can be loosely
associated within these broad artistic styles, his life and art were complex and varied, defying any specific characterization or
Spanning fifty years, the works included in the exhibition explore Francis’s use of saturated tones (blues, reds, or yellows) and
pigments ranging in hue from light to dark representing a kind of duality in the universe both understood and imagined. The
exhibition includes some of his smallest works, which measure three by two inches, as well as monumental murals that are
over ten feet long, each with a distinctive power and presence regardless of size or material. This exhibition includes some of
the artist’s loosely defined series including the “Cellular” paintings from the 1950s, the “Blue Balls” and “Edge” paintings of
the 1960s, and the “Fresh Air” and “Grids” from the 1970s. Other works include mandalas, late self-portraits, and Francis’s
alchemically inspired works of the 1980s and early 1990s.
An illustrated catalogue accompanies the exhibition featuring a recent dialogue on Francis and his work between the
exhibition’s co-curators: art historian Peter Selz, Ph.D., former curator at the Museum of Modern Art, New York and author of
the first monograph on the artist, and Debra Burchett-Lere, the executive director and interim president of the Sam Francis
Foundation. Burchett-Lere is also the author of the recently published Sam Francis Catalogue Raisonné of Canvas and Panel
Paintings: 1946–1994, published by the University of California Press.
Sam Francis: Five Decades of Abstract Expressionism from California Collections is organized by the Sam Francis Foundation
in collaboration with the Pasadena Museum of California Art and the Crocker Art Museum. The exhibition will travel to the
Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, CA, where it will be on view from January 26 – April 20, 2014.
Catalogue Raisonné of Canvas and Panel Paintings, 1946–1994
Edited by Debra Burchett-Lere with featured essay by William C. Agee
This innovative and long-awaited catalogue raisonné brings together, for the first time, all the known paintings on canvas and panel of California-born abstract expressionist Sam Francis (1923–1994) and offers a comprehensive chronicle of his artistic journey. One of the twentieth century’s leading interpreters of light and color, Francis maintained studios not only in New York and Los Angeles, but also in Paris, Bern, and Tokyo, making his reach truly international.
Elegantly boxed, the Sam Francis catalogue raisonné includes a richly illustrated book with informative texts and two DVDs with authoritative entries for the canvas and panel paintings in an easily browsable, groundbreaking format. It offers the ultimate reference on this artist and a vital research tool.
Color images and documentation for all 1,850-plus paintings on canvas and panel by Francis (hundreds reproduced for the first time) on two DVDs
A lavish book with an extended essay by Francis scholar William C. Agee and a biographical timeline by catalogue raisonné editor Debra Burchett-Lere
Rare footage of Francis at work, writings by the artist, and descriptions of his studios and techniques
Access to electronic updates as they become available
Easily searchable information in a groundbreaking, twentieth-first-century format
Debra Burchett-Lere is Director and Curator of the Sam Francis Foundation. William Agee, Evelyn Kranes Kossak Professor of Art History at Hunter College, City University of New York, is coauthor of Coming of Age: American Art, 1850s to 1950s, author of Sam Francis: Paintings 1947-1990, and contributor to many books, including Patrick Henry Bruce, American Modernist: A Catalogue Raisonné.
Abstract Expressionist Sam Francis will be the focus of a month-long selling exhibition at Sotheby’s New York this autumn. More than 40 works, all available for private sale, will be included in the exhibition Sam Francis: The Exploration of Color from 17 September through 14 October 2011. This marks the first exhibition on view in S2, a newly-constructed gallery space within our York Avenue headquarters dedicated to hosting private selling exhibitions.
“We conceived of S2 in response to frequent requests from our clients to see works at Sotheby’s for private sale as well as for auction” said Alex Rotter, Head of Sotheby’s Contemporary Art department in New York. “Designed by Richard Gluckman, S2 can show works of art ranging from large-scale installations to more intimate objects, and will offer a new and exciting dimension to the Sotheby’s experience that will help us to meet this growing demand. Richard Gluckman has created celebrated spaces for the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, in addition to Sotheby’s own 10th floor galleries, and we look forward to introducing this wonderful new space to our clients and to the general public.”
The exhibition celebrates the launch of the Sam Francis Catalogue Raisonné of Canvas and Panel Paintings, 1946-94, edited by Debra Burchett-Lere, Director of the Sam Francis Foundation, and published with University of California Press. Robert Buck, former Director of the Brooklyn Museum and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, enthused, “The publication will become the standard reference on Francis’s work. There are no more complete efforts than this one that tackles and describes the whole career.”
The exhibition Sam Francis: The Exploration of Color brings together a diverse selection of paintings on canvas and paper that trace the artist’s career from the 1940s to the 1990s. As Debra Burchett-Lere’s essay in Sotheby’s exhibition catalogue discusses: Francis found his calling as an artist in his 20s while hospitalized with spinal tuberculosis, using art as an escape during his multi-year encasement in a plaster cast. His career was propelled to critical acclaim in the 1950s, after moving to Paris and being embraced by the important art historians and curators of the day. His interests in architecture, literature, philosophy, poetry, politics, music, nature and science are all reflected in his works, from the smallest 3x2-inch paintings to monumentally scaled murals more than 100 times as large. While his painterly, expressionistic world appears uncalculated in its freeform presentation, Francis was guided by his intelligence, masterly control of the brush, and gut-felt intuition in capturing the beauty of human emotion.