Artwork in Focus is the second chapter of the gallery's In Focus series. Every week the gallery presents a viewing room featuring artworks that are available for purchase. This week we are presenting a work on paper by American artist Sam Francis: White Line no. 5, 1959. This viewing room is the second instalment of two presentations exploring Sam Francis’s practice.
After visiting Japan for the first time in 1957, Sam Francis’s approach to the pictorial surface started to change radically. The artist’s new approach to the use of the colour white and his departure from the stylistic line adopted in his previous series of works, coincided with a new attitude towards colour. For example, the works created for major commissions such as the Manhattan Chase Bank Mural (1959) and the series of panels for Art Basel started during the late 1950s, speak to Francis’s will to work with bigger scales, and further marks the birth of a new point of view on his paintings and visual compositions. As a matter of fact, this remains a key period in Francis’s artistic development, and signals a turning point for his reading and interpretation of the pictorial surface. At this stage, Francis was already begin recognised for his contribution in elevating Abstract Expressionism to a new level, and was considered to be the most popular and interesting American painter living outside of the USA.
One of the results of Francis’s stylistic metamorphosis was a series of works titled White line, which includes both paintings and works on paper, and usually presents two colourful masses divided by an interruption of white space. White Line no. 5 is a work on paper dated 1959 - the same year the Manhattan Chase Bank Mural was realised - and it features these compositional elements.
Sam FRANCIS1923 – 1994White Line no. 5, 1959Gouache on paper
Signed and dated on back67.4 x 101.6 cm
26 ½ x 40 in
In White Line no. 5, Francis masterfully employs the gouache medium to accentuate the colours’ physical texture, depth and tonality. At the same time, the artist extends his compositional possibilities by incorporating the ‘action painting’ technique of colour dripping - used both with intentional applications and by letting the colours drip naturally across the composition. In this work, by applying his experimentalism and innovations, Francis consolidates his reputation as a ‘second generation Abstract Expressionist’, breaking the boundaries of previous interpretations of colour field abstraction. In contrast with works dating from the beginning of the second half of the 1950s, in which colour manifests itself under the form of molecular, softly rounded shapes, White Line no. 5 presents a component of more splintered and angular coloured shapes. This element testifies a crucial passage for later works in which coloured parts would morph completely, assuming geometrical forms and configurations.
The white line across the composition acts as a breaking point, such as the horizon between the sea and the sky, or even the valley between two canyons seen from an aerial view. Splashes of paint are the extension of colourful blocks anchored to the upper and lower parts of the composition, as if they were two antagonists on a battle field. Despite this impression, the composition remains exceptionally balanced, with the harmony enhanced by the alternation of concave and convex morphologies applied respectively to the lower and upper sides of the paper support. By adopting this new imagery, Francis sets the foundations which would be essential to the new chapters of his career. At the same time, this gouache predicts the direction the artist would take during the second half of the 1960’s with the series called Sail Paintings, dominated by a white space contoured by abstract frames.
Biography & Collections
Samuel Lewis Francis was born in 1923, in San Mateo, California. He began painting in 1944 during a period of convalescence following an accident the artist had while enrolled in The U.S. Army Air Corps. Francis decided to progress in this new passion and soon abandoned his intended medical studies to follow his artistic ambitions, earning a BA in 1949 and an MA in 1950 at the University of California, Berkeley. Throughout the 1950s, Francis travelled consistently after his move to Paris in 1950. Francis returned to California in 1962 and resumed painting with combinations of bright tonalities. Over the next decades, Francis's style in painting and print production constantly changed and evolved, exploring different combinations of the relationship between shape and colour. Throughout his artistic career, Francis realised several public commissions, held many international exhibitions, and had studios in cities such as Bern, Paris, Los Angeles, and Tokyo. During the final decades of career, Francis held and supported several projects in publishing and nonprofit organisations. After opening his own lithography studio, in 1975 Francis funded an alternative energy company. In 1980 he contributed to the organisation of the Museum of Contemporary Art of Los Angeles. Ten years later, he founded the Sam Francis Art Museum in 1990 to perpetuate his artistic legacy and support charitable donations.
Today his works are held in many major collections around the world, including: Centre Pompidou, Paris; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; the Tate, London; and the Whitney Museum, New York.
Artwork in Focus: ‘White Line no. 5’, 1959 by Sam Francis