Caught on Camera
September 1972: Sam Francis
Sam Francis’s career as a painter and printmaker was brought about by fate more than anything else. He began as a pre-med student studying biology and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, which was interrupted by military service. While training to be a pilot with the United States Army Air Corps, he suffered an injury that developed into spinal tuberculosis. During the three-year recovery period, he began to paint as a form of distraction. Once he was informed that his illness would keep him from a medical career, he decided to become an artist.
Above, the artist stands in front of The Whiteness of the Whale, 1957, at the Members’ Preview of the exhibition Sam Francis: Paintings 1947–1972. This was the first retrospective presentation of Francis’s work, and spanned a quarter century while displaying a rare consistency of personal style. In addition to the collection of paintings, a wide selection of the artist’s watercolors was shown as a leitmotif of his evolving attitudes to form and color.
Francis intended to overwhelm the viewer with color, and blue and white were often the dominant themes in his work. His writings on paintings and color are highly visual themselves. In 1959, he wrote, “These paintings lie under the cloud that soared over the inlaid sea… You can’t interpret the dream of the canvas for this dream is the end of the hunt on the heavenly mountain—where nothing remains but the phoenix [symbol of rebirth] caught in the midst of lovely blueness.”* Untitled, 1956, the work that most clearly embodies this statement, is on view as part of Sincerely Yours: Treasures of the Queen City through September 14, 2014.
*In The New American Painting: As Shown in Eight European Countries 1958–1959 (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1959): 28.
You can’t interpret the dream of the canvas for this dream is the end of the hunt on the heavenly mountain—where nothing remains but the phoenix [symbol of rebirth] caught in the midst of lovely blueness.”*…