Peter’s Auction Pick of the Day: Sam Francis on Top of the World

October 5, 2012

Sam Francis on Top of the World

The year was 1956 and Time magazine deemed California painter Sam Francis to be “the hottest young painter in Paris.” Mainstream America’s ultimate arbiter of taste arrived at this puckish conclusion after the Museum of Modern Art highlighted the youthful creator in its “Twelve Americans” exhibit.

During this peak moment, when Francis could do no artistic wrong, he created Untitled (SF56-003) (Lot 228), one of the star attractions in this Sunday’s auction.

Untitled not only represents a turning point in the artist’s career, but also typifies his instinctive relationship with light and color. While Time’s golden boy made his name with expansive, fierce-hued canvases, Francis had already begun to produce, on paper, small and intimate paintings like Untitled – he believed that paper uniquely allowed him to exploit colors to their fullest.

In the case of Untitled, those colors begin with a nebulous blue formation, bulbs of which emerge from wells of unearthly black. It was black that Francis described as the “color from which light emerges.” What’s more, it was this same black that had, until recently, so dominated the artist’s work.

With Untitled, however, it is the color blue that dominates, flooding the painting atop vibrant mounds, rushing toward us like a tidal wave, past the yellows, reds, foggy greens, and beyond to the white ends of the paper.

Next time you’re at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, make sure to peruse a notably similar painting, Blue Spanish Shawl (1954-55), which is in LACMA’s permanent collection. Meanwhile, back at LAMA, Untitled (SF56-003) is on sale for the first time since it was purchased directly from Francis in 1970. A copy of the receipt, as well as a copy of correspondence from the studio are included for good measure.

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