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Sam Francis


The imagery of Sam Francis exhibits a spontaneity, openness, and bold presence that were as much a part of the artist as of his work. Francis allowed chance and accident to shape his images. His ability to understand and convey the meaning of these unconscious elements enables viewers to understand the artist, as well as his art.

Born in Northern California in 1923, Sam Francis briefly attended the University of California at Berkeley before leaving to join the Army Air Corps in 1943. While in military service, he suffered injuries that led to spinal tuberculosis, requiring a long recuperation. During this period, he began to paint.

In the late 1940s, Francis began to study at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute) and to work with fellow painter, David Parks. A short time later, he returned to UC Berkeley to study both painting and art history, eventually earning bachelor's and master's degrees.

The artist's desire to explore his art led him to Paris in the early '50s, and it was here that his professional career as an artist truly began. Soon after arriving in Europe, he began to travel extensively, living working and exhibiting in Paris, Tokyo, Switzerland and eventually, the United States. In 1962, Francis settled in Southern California.

From early in his career, Francis realized commercial and critical success with his large, paint-splattered, colorful images. Peter Selz, founding director of the University Museum at UC Berkeley writes "through the sheer beauty of Sam's paintings, his great importance is as the youngest of the first generation of Abstract Expressionists".

Archetypal images - mandalas, trellises, spirals, self-portraits - came to dominate his work during a period in the '70s when he was immersed in the work of Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung. In Jung's writings, Francis discovered ideas which he instinctively held to be true, and which he was convinced he had been exhibiting in his work from the start.

During the course of his career, Sam Francis was commissioned to paint a number of important murals, including those at the Louvre Museum in Paris, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco International Airport, Seattle's First National Bank and the Kunsthalle in Basel, Switzerland.

The list of the artist's solo exhibitions and museum collections is extensive. His first one-man exhibition was in Paris in 1952. Retrospectives of his work have been held by Houston's Museum of Fine Arts, the Kunsthalle in Basel, and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo. Additional shows have been held at the Pompidou Centre in Paris, the Galerie Kornfeld und Klipstein in Bern, the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, the Museum of Modern Art in Toyama, Japan, Tokyo's Idemitsu Art Gallery, and the Hong Kong Art Centre. Most recently, shows have been held at the prestigious Konsthall in Malmo, Sweden, the Museo Nacional in Madrid, and the Galleria Communale in Rome, as well as the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art.

Sam Francis died in 1994. In the end, for the artist, the power of art lies not in its superficial effects, but how it resonates in the soul. As he said, "Depth is all." Despite its simplicity of form, it is no wonder that the art of this intense and thoughtful man is deeply personal, revealing the presence of a powerful and truly creative spirit.

Martin Lawrence Galleries is pleased to have select Sam Francis works in our inventory. To view our collection please click here.