LAMA BLOG

Peter’s Auction Pick of the Day: Pure Color

February 28, 2017

Today I want to draw attention to a group of works currently being offered in the March 5, 2017 auction that embody the notion of pure color. This includes paintings by artists like Alma Thomas, Lorser Feitelson, Helen Lundeberg, Karl Benjamin, and Sam Francis, all of which employ eye-catching, vibrant hues to create a range of completely different compositions.

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Alma Thomas, Spring Flowers in Washington D.C, 1969
March 5, 2017 Modern Art & Design Auction

The work of Alma Thomas was recognized only in the latter stages of her career when, in 1972, she became the first African American female artist to be granted a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art. There has been even greater interest in her work in recent years since Barack and Michelle Obama opted to hang one of her paintings in the White House. Thomas is often associated with the Washington Color School, with whom she shared an interest in geometry, scale and optical effects. Spring Flowers in Washington D.C. (1969) is dominated by an organic, circular form – a common motif in Thomas’s oeuvre, which symbolized an aerial view of trees and flowers, reduced down to her characteristic bright blocks of pure form. Eschewing hard edges, the circle contains multiple slivers of rainbow color, itself a potent icon.

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Sam Francis, Untitled (SFF.535), c. 1969-1970
March 5, 2017 Modern Art & Design Auction

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Sam Francis, Untitled (SF53-101), 1953-1954
March 5, 2017 Modern Art & Design Auction

Thomas’s vivid tones are paralleled by the Sam Francis works in the sale: Untitled (SF53-101) (1953-1954) and Untitled (SFF.535) (c. 1969-1970), which was made around the same time as Thomas’s work. This seminal abstract painter is renowned for his exuberant, saturated canvases which draw influence from a tellingly broad range of sources: Abstract Expressionism, Art Informel, Claude Monet, Zen Buddhism, Color Field, and action painting. Francis was an inveterate traveller, spending his formative abroad in cities including Paris, Bern, Mexico City, New York, Tokyo.. This latter influence is apparent in the relationship of form to blank space in Untitled (SFF.535). Here, asymmetrical daubs of pure pigment leave a void across the center of the painting, in what might be interpreted as ma, a poetic space that may inspire a Zen-like meditative state.

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Lorser Feitelson, Magical Space Forms, 1962
March 5, 2017 Modern Art & Design Auction

Equally brightly-colored, but with a rather different aesthetic, are the paintings in the sale by the so-called California Hard Edge Painters: Lorser Feitelson’s Magical Space Forms (1962), Helen Lundeberg’s By the Sea (1960), and #1 (1977) by Karl Benjamin. This term was coined by art critic and curator Jules Langsner to describe the new, abstract works emerging from the region, which employed bold graphic shapes, flat surfaces and stark lines. These artists abstained from expressive mark-making, preferring instead to inspire contemplation through pure abstract form and color.

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Helen Lundeberg, By The Sea, 1960
March 5, 2017 Modern Art & Design Auction

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Karl Benjamin, #1, 1977
March 5, 2017 Modern Art & Design Auction

Lot Information:

Lot 156
Sam Francis
Untitled (SFF.535)
c. 1969-1970
Acrylic on canvas
Canvas: 60″ x 50
Provenance: Private Collection, Santa Monica, California (acquired directly from the artist)
Illustrated:  Sam Francis. Y. Michaud. 1992. 131.; Sam Francis: Catalogue Raisonné of Canvas and Panel Paintings, 1946-1994. W. C. Agee and D. Burchett-Lere. 2011. #535.
Estimate: $250,000 – $350,000

Lot 157
Sam Francis
Untitled (SF53-101)
Watercolor on paper
Signed and dated in graphite “Sam Francis/1954/1953″ verso
Sheet: 18.625″ x 24.625″; Frame: 26″ x 31”
Provenance: Private Collection, Santa Monica, California (acquired directly from the artist)
Exhibited: “Sam Francis Works on Paper 1953-1986: The Ranchito Collection,” The Roy and Frances Brandstater Gallery, Loma Linda University, Riverside, February 19-March 19, 1987
Illustrated:  Sam Francis Works on Paper 1953-1986: The Ranchito Collection. The Roy and Frances Brandstater Gallery exh. cat. 1987. #1.
Estimate: $150,000 – $200,000

Lot 170
Helen Lundeberg
By the Sea
1960
Oil on Masonite
Signed and dated lower left; signed, titled, and dated verso; retains Louis Stern Fine Arts label verso
Board: 20″ x 23.75″; Frame: 21″ x 25″
LAMA would like to thank the Feitelson/Lundeberg Art Foundation for their assistance in cataloguing this work
Provenance: The artist; The Feitelson/Lundeberg Foundation
Estimate: $10,000-$15,000

Lot 172
Karl Benjamin
#1
1977
Oil on Canvas
Signed, titled, and dated on wooden stretcher verso; retains Louis Stern Fine Arts label verso
Canvas: 31″ x 31″; Frame: 32.5″ x 32.5″
Estimate: $10,000 – $15,000

Lot 288
Lorser Feitelson
Magical Space Forms
1962
Enamel on canvas
Signed and dated verso; retains San Francisco Museum of Modern Art exhibition label verso
Canvas: 70″ x 60″; Frame: 71″ x 61″
LAMA would like to thank the Feitelson/Lundeberg Art Foundation for their assistance in cataloguing this work
Provenance: The artist; Craig Ellwood, Los Angeles, California; Thence by descent
Estimate: $50,000-$70,000

Lot 323
Alma Thomas
Spring Flowers in Washington D.C.
1969
Oil on Canvas
Signed and dated lower right; signed, titled and dated verso
Canvas: 24.875″ x 24.875″; Frame: 26″ x 26″
Together with letter from the artist dated October 24, 1969
Provenance: Private Collection, Pasadena, California (acquired directly from the artist, 1969); Thence by descent
Estimate: $125,000-$175,000

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