Sam Francis Biography

Sam Francis




Samuel L. Francis was born in San Mateo, California, on June 25, 1923. After entering the University of California in Berkeley in 1941 he began studying botany, but soon changed to psychology and medicine. From 1943 to 1945 he served in World War II, where he suffered a severe spine injury. After a long period of convalescence and returned to Berkeley, where he studied painting and art history from 1948 to 1950. Among his teachers are Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still.

Sam Francis moved to Paris from 1950-57, where he attended the Académie Léger. Paris is also where his first one-man show took place in 1952. He met the artist and critic Michel Tapié, who published his influential book "Un art autre" in 1952.
Having been accepted into the vanguard of young European artists, his works were shown in exhibitions in Paris, London and Bern. His breakthrough in America came with his participation in the exhibition "Twelve Americans" in the New York Museum of Modern Art in 1956.

The early 50's also marked the stylistic change from monochromatic, complete surface covering compositions to colorful "Color Islands" on the white canvas. Sam Francis' calligraphic characteristic of color application and the lyrical properties of the liquid paint were informed by Asian art, which he closely examined. On a journey around the world in 1957 he visited India, Thailand and Japan, showing works in exhibitions in Tokyo and Osaka. He lead a restless life, moviing between his principal residence in Paris, to  Bern and Zurich, where he made his first large size lithographs in colors. Sam Francis moved back to California in 1962, to Santa Monica and opened a studio in Venice in 1963.

Starting in the 1960's onward Francis developed his personal form of spontaneous and gestic drippings. He applied acrylic, oil and watercolors to the image carrier with revolving and splashing motions. The surfaces of his "Grid Pictures" from the 1970's are covered with a netlike structure. Besides "Action Painting" (Francis being one of the most important representatives thereof), he also turned to other techniques such as lithography, etching and monotype. His examination of graphic art lead to some interesting experiments in the 1980's. Expressive compositions with multiple units, partly with running colors, hellp define his work during these years. The last period of artistic of his work was highlighted by commissioned works for large murals.

Sam Francis died in Santa Monica, California on November 11, 1994.