Sam Francis (1923 - 1994) occupies a prominent position in post-war American painting. Although associated with the Abstract Expressionist movement and Clement Greenberg's Post-Painterly Abstraction, unlike many American painters of his time he had direct and prolonged exposure to French painting and to Japanese art which had an individual impact on his work.
Born on 25 June 1923 in San Mateo, California, Francis attended the University of California in Berkeley from 1941 to 1943, when he joined the Air Force. He left Air force in 1944 owing to illness (spinal tuberculosis), rendering him immobile and near death. Francis took up painting as a form of therapy and through it found a way back to life. He decided to make this a serious undertaking studying under David Park in 1947 and completed his BA and MA at the University of California. He was greatly influenced by Abstract Expressionism particularly the works of Clyfford Still and Jackson Pollock. In his use of space on the canvas to allow free circulation of strong colour and the sensitivity to light Francis developed his own style by the time his studies had ended.
While he followed and absorbed the new message of New York-based Abstract Expressionism, he was drawn to Paris in 1950. The magnetism of Monet’s light and Matisse’s colour actually were more durable foundations to his art than the drips and splatters derived from Pollock. He continued developing the use of white space and increased the dimensions of his paintings for greater emphasis.
Francis returned to California in 1962 and was then influenced by the West Coast School's preoccupation with mysticism and Eastern philosophy. Blue had become a more dominant feature of his work since 1959 inspired by personal suffering and the great joy of becoming a father for the first time in 1961. This led to combinations of hard colour and more disciplined structures with centrally placed rectangles during the 1970s. Eventually these more rigid structures gave way to looser configurations sometimes of snake-like forms with web-like patterns. Blue, sometimes brilliant, remained an important part of many later works.
One of his most important contributions was the establish-ment of his own print shop, started with a lithography press acquired when the Tamarind Workshop relocated from Los Angeles to Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1967. Francis gradually picked up a group of full time printers that included George Page, Dan Cytron, and Jacob Samuel. When working on his prints Francis said: “I am the paper, I am the paint, I am the machine”