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Sam Francis: A Collector’s Guide

5 things you need to know about one of the twentieth century’s most profound Abstract Expressionists, Sam Francis.

Sam Francis in his studio

Works featured on offer in West Chelsea Contemporary’s current exhibition: ICONS & VANDALS: MAY 15 – JULY 11.


One of the twentieth century’s most profound Abstract Expressionists, Sam Francis (1923 – 1994), was an American artist known for his exuberantly colorful, large-scale abstract paintings. His practice incorporated elements from Abstract Expressionism, Color Field painting, Impressionism, and Eastern philosophy to create a unique style of painterly abstraction.

“Painting is about the beauty of space and the power of containment.” – Sam Francis

Read on below to discover five things you should now about the talented Sam Francis.

  1.  Francis initially took up painting as a hobby after leaving the U.S. Marine Corps in 1944. After being hospitalized and unable to serve, he began painting to keep himself busy. Quickly, he became obsessed. He explored the emerging artistic styles of the late 1940’s, particularly surrealism and abstract expressionism. Through experimenting with these styles he discovered his own technique of abstraction focused on instability and sensitivity to color and light, as seen in his piece, Opposites (1950).
Sam Francis, Opposites (1950)
  1. Monet’s water-lily series was one of Francis’ greatest influences. When Francis moved to Paris in the 1950s, he encountered Monet’s Water Lilies, which proved lastingly influential to his art’s scale and sensitivity to light and color. His work evolved from monochromatic abstractions to rich chromatic murals, and then to his iconic “open” paintings, in which vividly hued splashes and drips of color are punctuated by expanses of white. He had his first exhibition in Paris in 1952 and was an instant success. Throughout the 1950’s he was probably the most celebrated American artist of his generation in Western Europe and Japan.  
Sam Francis, Untitled (Lembark L234) (1979) on view now at West Chelsea Contemporary
  1. Francis traveled and studied extensively, maintaining studios in Bern, Paris, Tokyo, Mexico City, New York and Northern and Southern California. Between the years of 1957-1960, Francis left Paris and began traveling. He claimed that he became dissatisfied with Paris, even though the seven years he was there, from 1950-1957, were extremely successful for him. While he was in Paris, he had produced his first body of work that had attained critical acclaim, effectively funding his global travel. During his travel period and after his departure from Paris, he completed dozens of paintings featuring large expanses of white. Travel presented itself to Francis as an opportunity to re-evaluate and re-consider, with increased concentration, the conditions under which a painting could be made and how that painting might be understood.
  1. Sam Francis’ most expensive painting was SUMMER #1, sold for $11 million at Sotheby’s auction in 2016. Francis painted SUMMER #1 in 1957. This piece is an oil on canvas painting at an impressive scale of 95.5 x 72 in. The vibrant variation of splashes of colorful paint in SUMMER #1 is the theme of much of Francis’ work, which has become increasingly popular within the past few years. Continuing to exceed expectation, Sam Francis’ work,  Composition (1954), sold for $2 million outside of the 1 million to 1.5 million estimate at Sotheby’s New York in 2016. The abstract impressionism he utilized was important in the mid-20th century that defined the period of contemporary art.
Sam Francis, SUMMER #1 (1957)

5. In 1970, Sam Francis established his own print studio in Santa Monica, California, called The Litho Shop, Inc. In the later half of his career, between 1970-1974, Francis became invested in creating his own lithographs and prints. This led him to create his own space, The Litho Shop, Inc. Francis was as immensely influential as a printmaker as he was a painter, with his editions produced in the Litho Shop bearing many similarities to his paintings that incorporate vibrant colors and abstract techniques.

Sam Francis occupies a prominent position in post-war American painting. Unlike many American painters of the time, he had direct and prolonged exposure to French painting and to Japanese art which had an individual impact on his work. The painterly abstraction of Sam Francis is most often associated with the American Abstract Expressionist movement, but Francis also spent a great deal of time in Paris and became linked with the parallel movement of Informalism in Europe. Francis’ most iconic works are characterized by saturated splashes of color that populate the edges of the canvas in order to emphasize the luminous white void in the center. This contrast between the vibrancy of Francis’ color palette and the austere white picture plane demonstrate the artist’s concern with relationships of space, color, and light, as opposed to the psychologically expressive tendencies of contemporaries such as Jackson Pollock.


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What’s on now at WCC:

West Chelsea Contemporary’s nearly 8,000 square-foot gallery offers the opportunity to highlight work on a monumental scale. From 16-foot originals by RETNA and Cey Adams to colossal sculptural work—including a larger than life mixed media shark and painted aluminum spaceman—the gallery is activated by art world giant’s not only in a metaphorical sense. 

By contemplating ground-breaking movements from the past six decades, Icons & Vandals allows viewers to rediscover and redefine the art world’s most iconic and contentious house-hold names. These artists have left their mark on the development and progression of contemporary art by subverting the norms of their own time.  Through this show it becomes clear that these two labels are not mutually exclusive but in fact ingrained in their interconnectedness. 

Works from ICONS & VANDALS will be on display and for sale at West Chelsea Contemporary in beginning May 15.

Reach out today to inquire or acquire.

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