© 2022 Sam Francis Foundation, California / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo © The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, by Elie Posner

Sam Francis

American, 1923–1994

Untitled (#73–30),


Acrylic on canvas, 243.8 x 304.8 cm
Bequest of the artist to American Friends of the Israel Museum

Sam Francis is considered one of the major second-generation American Abstract Expressionists. He discovered his vocation as a painter at the age of twenty-one while serving as a pilot in the US Army Air Corps, when he had to be hospitalized for a lengthy period of time, during which he took up painting. He proceeded to study art in California and Paris. His lyrical use of color and space, combined with his interest in structure and composition, distinguish his work from the “rawer” style of the New York School.

Known for his exuberantly colorful, large-scale abstractions, Francis incorporated in his works elements from Abstract Expressionism, Color Field painting, Impressionism, and Eastern philosophy. Closely associated with the work of Helen Frankenthaler and with the Art Informel movement while he was living in Paris during the 1950s, Francis was more interested in the formal arrangement of the picture plane than the expressivity of the individual artist.

In this painting from 1973, he worked on the floor, applying blue, burgundy, green, and yellow paint directly on the canvas with a roller. At times, the layers of diluted colors absorbed into the canvas produce a watercolor effect; elsewhere, the denser stains have an enamel-like quality. The crossed diagonal intersections, vaguely reminiscent of airplanes, hark back to the artist’s experience as an army pilot, and the vivid colors against a white luminous background evoke an aerial view. The work reflects Francis’s interest in Eastern philosophy and aesthetics: in his words, it is about “the beauty of space and the power of containment.” Francis became acquainted with Zen Buddhism during his university years and began making frequent trips to Japan in 1957. In form and spontaneity, the dynamic central motif resembles the calligraphic characters found on Japanese folding screens. In both cases, the relationship between the strokes and drips of paint or ink and the void-like background creates a sense of tension while at the same time conferring a meditative aspect on the work.

Eliad Moreh-Rosenberg and Adina Kamien

Artists in Action

Sam Francis: -A Portrait of the Self- a clip from a film by Mark Whitney

Koch, Eric / Anefo, CC BY-SA 3.0 NL , via Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sam_Francis.jpg

Samuel Lewis Francis was an American painter and printmaker.