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Sam Francis papers, 1916-2010 (bulk 1950-1994)

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Francis (Sam) Papers

Biographical/Historical Note

Sam Francis was born in 1923 in San Mateo, California. He studied botany and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, but dropped out before graduating to enlist in the Army during World War II. Injured in a training flight crash in 1944, he was a convalescent for several years, during which time he began to paint as a form of distraction. When he recovered he returned to college, studying painting under Bay Area artists David Park and Clifford Still.

Francis moved to Paris in the 1950s, where he had his first solo exhibition at the Galerie Nina Dausset. Shortly thereafter, he joined Martha Jackson Gallery, and was featured in the landmark 1956 12 Americans show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In the late 1950s he painted a mural for the Sogetsu School in Toyko, Japan, initiating a lifelong relationship with people and art institutions in that country. In the early 1960s he permanently settled in Los Angeles, where he remained a prolific painter until the end of his life. He founded a fine art printing press, the Litho Shop, in 1970, and a book publishing business, Lapis Press, in 1984, the latter with Jan Butterfield and Jack Stauffacher. He became a key figure in the incipient Los Angeles art scene, known for his support of other artists, and was a founding member of the Museum of Contemporary Art. At the same time, he had frequent exhibitions and major retrospectives at museums in Europe, Japan and the U.S. Both famous and unusually wealthy for a California painter, he felt also the burden of responsibility his achievement brought and was known to remark that he was "tired" of being Sam Francis.

A second generation Abstract Expressionist, Francis brought to the New York style of painting the influences of Jungian psychology, Buddhism and Japanese aesthetics. His work evolved from the monochrome abstractions of the 1950s to color-splattered canvases with large fields of white. While generally acknowledged as an important post-war painter, critical acclaim focuses on his 1950s paintings, a series titled Blue Balls (created in response to a bout with renal tuberculosis) and a series painted for his fourth wife, Mako Idemitsu.

Francis was married five times and had four children. He died in 1994 at the age of 71.

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