Biography

Sam Francis painting in the Broadway studio, Santa Monica, California, 1983, photo by Jerry Sohn.

For Sam Francis, exploring the creative process was his driving force. It impacted not only his art, but his view of human progress.

 

One of the twentieth century’s most profound Abstract Expressionists, American artist Sam Francis (1923-1994) is noted as one of the first post-World War II painters to develop an international reputation. Francis created thousands of paintings as well as works on paper, prints and monotypes, housed in major museum collections and institutions around the world. Regarded as one of the leading interpreters of color and light, his work holds references to New York abstract expressionism, color field painting, Chinese and Japanese art, French impressionism and his own Bay Area roots.

 

After graduating from Cal Berkeley in 1950 with a degree in art, Francis moved to Paris, where he would go on to be named by Time Magazine as, “the hottest American painter in Paris these days.” A transformative period of his career, Francis immersed himself in a study of Monet’s Water Lilies and was influenced by his close friendships with the Matisse family and artists Al Held, Joan Mitchell, and Jean-Paul Riopelle.

 

For the next four decades he traveled and studied extensively, maintaining studios in Bern, Paris, Tokyo, Mexico City, New York and Northern and Southern California. Through his travels he was exposed to many styles, techniques and cultural influences, which informed the development of his own dialogue and style of painting. Francis possessed a lyrical and gestural hand, enabling him to capture and record the brilliance, energy and intensity of color at different moments of time and periods of his life. His paintings embody his love of literature, music and science, while reflecting his deep range of emotions and personal turmoil.

 

Sam Francis in Santa Monica, 1986; photo by Jerry Sohn

Not only are Francis’s paintings valued historically for their aesthetic vision, but his inquisitive mind and spirit have solidified Francis’s legacy as a contemporary renaissance man. His interest in the creative process was expansive and synergistic – art, technology, psychology, science, medicine, and protecting the environment (before it became a movement). He was an early investor in research to find creative solutions to our dependence on non-renewable energy sources and cures for AIDs. In each of these realms, he explored the nature of creativity – what stimulates it, the importance of testing new ideas through experimentation as well as the roles of imagination, intuition and knowledge.

 

Much like Francis believed his life was a series of ongoing challenges, the Sam Francis Foundation is dedicated to expanding his sense of wonder – his freedom to explore – his mantra to dream – his life force to be creative..

For a thorough biographical chronology, please refer to the Catalogue Raisonné of Canvas and Panel Paintings published by UC Press, 2011

Sam Francis: Abridged Chronology with Selected Exhibitions

© 8/2014 Debra Burchett-Lere for Sam Francis Foundation

 

Sam Francis in San Mateo, California, 1925

Sam Francis in San Mateo, California, 1925

1923-1942

  • Samuel Lewis Francis is born on 25 June 1923 in San Mateo, California, USA to Katherine Lewis Francis and Samuel Augustus Francis, Sr. His brother, George Conant Francis is born in 1926.
  • Francis’s mother dies in 1935 when he is twelve.

 

1943-1945

  • Attends University of California, Berkeley as pre-med student, but is called to military service. He trains to become a pilot until a plane accident during Army Air Corps training (and subsequently progressing illness from spinal tuberculosis) hospitalizes him for years (1943–1947).
  • Begins painting while lying prone in his hospital bed first in Denver Colorado at Fitzsimons Hospital, and then at Fort Miley Hospital in San Francisco (1945–1947).

 

1947-1950

  • Released from hospital (1947). Paints and studies in the San Francisco area, California. Creates series of early works both figurative and abstract. Early influences include artists: Arshile Gorky, David Park, Mark Rothko, and Clyfford Still, among others.
  • Returns to Cal Berkeley and changes his major to art and receives his BA degree (1949) and MA degree (1950).
  • Marries and divorces high school girlfriend Vera Miller (1947–1952).

 

1950-1959

  • With the support of the GI Bill moves to Paris in October 1950.
  • Lives and works primarily in Paris (at several studios) and the south of France with working periods in Mexico City, Tokyo, Bern, and New York.
  • Long-term relationship, marriage and divorce with California painter Muriel Goodwin (1950–1959).

 

Francis at first solo exhibition, Galerie Nina Dausset, Paris,1952

Francis at first solo exhibition, Galerie Nina Dausset, Paris,1952

 

1952-1955

  • Championed by art critics Michel Tapié and Claude Duthuit (son-in- law of painter Henri Matisse) in Paris.
  • First solo exhibitions at Galerie Nina Dausset, Paris; Galerie Rive Droite, Paris.

 

1956

  • Solo gallery exhibitions at Galerie Rive Droite, Paris; Zoe Dusanne Gallery, Seattle; and his first New York show at the Martha Jackson Gallery, New York.
  • Time Magazine feature describes Francis as “the hottest American painter in Paris these days.”

 

Chase Manhattan Bank Mural in progress in Francis’ Broadway studio, New York, c. 1959

Chase Manhattan Bank Mural in progress in Francis’ Broadway studio, New York, c. 1959

1957-1959

  • Extended travels and working periods in Bern, New York City, Mexico City, and Tokyo. Series groupings and styles during the 1950s are loosely referred to as: Cells, Clouds/Atmospheric Landscapes, In Lovely Blueness, Japan Line, Moby Dick, Islands of Color, Chase Mural, and White Line.
  • Included in seminal “12 Americans” group exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York, organized by Dorothy Miller.
  • In autumn 1957 paints a commissioned mural for the Ikebana Sogetsu School, Tokyo. Maintains his studio in the Arcueil district, Paris.
  • Solo gallery exhibitions at Galerie Rive Droite, Paris; Zoe Dusanne Gallery, Seattle; Gimpel Fils, Ltd., London; Galerie Ad Libitum, Antwerp, Belgium, and Galerie Kornfeld und Klipstein, Bern.
  • Included in “The New American Painting” group exhibition at MoMA, New York with portrait by Irving Penn for Vogue magazine featuring Francis with artists: William Baziotes, James Brooks, Philip Guston, Franz Kline, Barnett Newman, Theodoros Stamos, Jack Tworkov.
  • Rents additional studio in New York City to complete commissioned painting for the Chase Manhattan Bank Mural.
  • Museum exhibitions at the Pasadena Art Museum (now Norton Simon Museum), Pasadena; travels to San Francisco Museum of Art, San Francisco; Seattle Art Museum, Seattle; Phillips Gallery, Washington, D.C.
  • Marries Japanese painter Teruko Yokoi; birth of their daughter and Francis’s first child, Kayo Andrea (1959) in New York.

 

1960-1966

  • Lives and works in New York, Paris, Tokyo, Bern, and California. Hospitalized for almost a year due to recurrence of tuberculosis in Bern (1961). After hospitalization moves back to California, first staying in Santa Barbara and then Santa Monica, with working trips to New York and Tokyo, where he establishes a working studio. Paintings loosely grouped in series known as: Blue Forms, Blue Balls, Bright Rings, Floating Land Masses.
  • Solo museums exhibitions at the Kunsthalle, Bern; travels to Moderna Museet, Stockholm; and gallery shows at Martha Jackson Gallery, New York; Minami Gallery, Tokyo; Galerie Kornfeld und Klipstein, Bern; Galerie Jacques Dubourg, Paris; Arthur Tooth & Sons, London.
  • Purchases property (formerly owned by silent film actor, Charlie Chaplin) and designs new studio on West Channel Road, Santa Monica that becomes his permanent home base until his death.
  • Included in exhibition “Documenta III,” Kassel, Germany, where Basel Mural Triptych is shown (1964).
  • Maintains the Arcueil studio in Paris until it is razed in 1983.
  • Divorces Teruko Yokoi (1966).
  • Creates environmental performance “Sky Painting” with helicopters flying over Tokyo Bay, Japan.
  • Marries Japanese filmmaker Mako Idemitsu; birth of their son and Francis’s second child, Osamu William (1966) in Santa Monica.

 

1967-1969

  • Works and travels primarily between California, Japan, and Switzerland and focuses on the Edge/Sail paintings.
  • Solo gallery exhibitions at Minami Gallery, Tokyo; Galerie Kornfeld und Klipstein, Bern; Galerie Benador, Zurich; Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York; Galerie Jean Fournier & Cie, Paris; André Emmerich Gallery, New York.
  • Solo museum shows at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas; University Art Museum, Berkeley; Centre National d’ Art Contemporain, Paris; Kunsthalle Basel, Basel.
  • Creates environmental performance “Snow Painting” with skiers in Naibara, Japan
  • Receives honorary Ph.D. from University of California, Berkeley (1968).
  • Birth of Francis’s third child, a son named Shingo Jules (1969) in Santa Monica.
  • Begins work on mural-sized canvas, Berlin Red for the National Gallery of Art, West Berlin.

 

1970-1974

  • Maintains several studios in southern California (Santa Monica and Venice) through 1994. Also lives and works for longer periods of time in Tokyo, with trips to Bern and Paris. Paintings series include Berlin Red/Berkeley and Fresh Air groupings in the early 1970s.
  • Solo gallery exhibitions at Nicholas Wilder Gallery, Los Angeles; Martha Jackson Gallery, New York; Galerie Jean Fournier, Paris; André Emmerich Gallery, New York; Richard Gray Gallery, Chicago; Galerie Kornfeld and Klipstein, Bern; Gimpel Fils Gallery, London; Smith Andersen Gallery, Palo Alto, California; Robert Elkon Gallery, New York.
  • Establishes The Litho Shop, Inc. to print and publish his own limited edition prints, as well as his office and studio staff. Also works at times with other print shops such as Gemini G.E.L., Los Angeles.
  • Solo museums exhibitions at Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York; Corcoran Gallery, Washington, D.C.; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, Texas; Oakland Museum of Art, Oakland, California; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles; Idemitsu Art Museum, Tokyo; Nagoya American Center, Nagoya, Japan; Fundación Eugenio Mendoza, Caracas.

 

Francis at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek, Denmark

Francis at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek, Denmark

1975-1979

  • Sam Francis, the first major monograph on Francis and his work written by Peter Selz, is published by Harry N. Abrams, New York (1975), with revised edition 1982.
  • Begins series of ongoing collaborations of monotypes with Garner Tullis. Paintings series include explorations of his Archetypical imagery including Jungian and Zen inspired symbols of Mandalas, Circles, Crosses, Stars, and Self-Portraits.
  • Solo museum exhibitions at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek, Denmark; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Liljevalchs Konsthall, Stockholm, Israel Museum, Jerusalem; Otis Art Institute, Los Angeles; Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, Massachusetts.
  • Solo gallery shows at Nicholas Wilder Gallery, Los Angeles; Richard Gray Gallery, Chicago; Galerie Jean Fournier, Paris; André Emmerich Gallery, New York; Galerie Kornfeld und Klipstein, Bern (and Zurich); Minami Gallery, Tokyo; Robert Elkon Gallery, New York.

 

1980-1985

  • Continues to travel and work between studios in California, Japan, and Switzerland. Paintings explore free-flowing color compositions.
  • Solo museum exhibitions at L’Abbaye de Sénanque, Centre International de Création Artistique, Gordes, France; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles; Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.; Fondation Maeght, Saint-Paul de Vence, France; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
  • Solo gallery shows at Riko Mizuno Gallery, Los Angeles; James Corcoran Gallery, Los Angeles; Smith Andersen Gallery, Palo Alto, California; André Emmerich Gallery, New York; Ace Gallery, Los Angeles; Richard Gray Gallery, Chicago; Galerie Kornfeld, Bern; Knoedler Gallery, London; Nantenshi Gallery, Tokyo.
  • Divorces Mako Idemitsu (1982).
  • Elected to Board of Trustees at Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.
  • Establishes temporary painting studio in San Leandro, California to paint larger murals; including one for the San Francisco International Airport (1983).
  • Awarded the honor of “Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres” from France (1983).
  • Develops the Lapis Press to publish original books by artists and writers.

 

Museum of Modern Art, Toyama, Japan, 1988; photos courtesy Museum of Modern Art.

Museum of Modern Art, Toyama, Japan, 1988; photos courtesy Museum of Modern Art.

1985-1989

  • Acquires additional working studios in Palo Alto, northern California; a residence in Paris, south of Montparnasse (1985), and in southern California in Venice (1987). Continues to travel and work in the different studios, including Japan and Santa Monica, as well as spending time painting in Manchester, England (1989). Paintings evoke a feeling of alchemy and rebirth with an organic visceral intensity and thickly applied gestural paint.
  • Solo gallery exhibitions at Galerie Kornfeld, Bern; Galerie Jean Fournier, Paris; Nantenshi Gallery, Tokyo; Richard Gray Gallery, Chicago.
  • Solo gallery exhibitions at André Emmerich Gallery, New York; Galerie Jean Fournier, Paris; Nantenshi Gallery, Tokyo; Knoedler Gallery, London; Manny Silverman Gallery, Los Angeles; Nantenshi Gallery, Tokyo; Richard Gray Gallery, Chicago; Galerie Kornfeld, Bern; Galerie Delaive, Amsterdam.
  • Solo museum exhibitions at Toyama Museum, Toyama, Japan; The Museum of Modern Art, Seibu Takanawa, Karuizawa; The Museum of Modern Art, Shiga; Ohara Museum of Art; Murashiki, Setagaya Art Museum, Tokyo.
  • Marries English painter Margaret Smith in a Shinto ceremony in Tokyo (1985).
  • Completion of mural for the Wattis Rotunda San Francisco Museum of Art (1986).
  • Completion of commissioned ceiling mural for the Opera National, Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie, Brussels, Belgium (1986)
  • Birth of Francis’s fourth child, a son named Augustus James Joseph (1986) in Santa Monica.

 

1990-1994

  • Solo gallery exhibitions at Gallery Delaive, Amsterdam; Heland Wetterling Gallery, Stockholm; Galerie Kornfeld, Bern; Galerie Jean Fournier, James Corcoran Gallery, Los Angeles; Gagosian Gallery, New York; Kukje Gallery, Seoul, South Korea; Manny Silverman Gallery, Los Angeles.
  • Acquires properties and rents studios in northern California at Pt. Reyes Station. Maintains working studios in Santa Monica, Palo Alto, and Venice, California.
  • The Prints of Sam Francis: A Catalogue Raisonné by Connie Lembark, is published by Hudson Hills Press (1992).
  • Solo retrospective exhibition at Kunst-und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Bonn, Germany (1993).
  • Large-scaled painting, Dynamic Symmetry (1978), installed at the German Parliament building, Bonn (1993).
  • Donation of ten paintings to The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (1993) accompanied by an exhibition.
  • Receives the “Distinguished Alumnus Award” from University of California, Berkeley (1994) accompanied by solo exhibition (1994).
  • Sam Francis dies on 4 November 1994 in Santa Monica from complications of prostate cancer. His wife, Margaret Smith and their son, Augustus as well as children from previous marriages survive him: Kayo (with her three grandchildren: Tai, Aisha, Mawusi (Anela), Osamu, and Shingo.
  • Francis is buried in northern California near Point Reyes Station.

 

1995-1998

  • The Sam Francis Estate continues to coordinate shows with solo museum exhibitions at Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles (The Last Works studio recreation); Grunwald/UCLA Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Kunstverein Ludwigsberg, Frankfurt; Jeu de Paume Museum, Paris (reunites the Basel Mural panels); Frederick M. Weisman Museum of Art, Pepperdine University, Malibu, California; Fundación Caja de Madrid, Spain; Museo d’Arte, Mendrisio, Swizerland; Sogetsu Art Museum, Tokyo; Fundacíon Miro, Barcelona.
  • Selected solo gallery exhibitions at Smith Andersen Gallery, Palo Alto, California; Sogetsu Art Museum, Tokyo; Gallery Delaive, Amsterdam; Gagosian Gallery, Beverly Hills; Gallery Guy Pieters, Knokke, Belgium; Galerie Proarta, Zurich; Robert Green Fine Arts, Mill Valley, California; Galleri Faurschou, Copenhagen, Denmark; Manny Silverman Gallery, Los Angeles; Galerie Jean Fournier, Paris; Baukunst Galerie, Cologne.

 

Basel Mural Triptych on view at Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 1999; photo by Brian Forrest, Santa Monia

Basel Mural Triptych on view at Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 1999; photo by Brian Forrest, Santa Monia

1999-2009

  • Solo museum exhibition originates at The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Los Angeles (with Basel Mural Triptych reunited in MOCA venue only) and travels to Menil Collection, Houston, Texas; Konsthall Malmö, Sweden; the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, Spain; Galleria Communale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Rome, Italy (1999–2001). The Chase Manhattan Mural (on temporary loan from its permanent location in New York) was also on view for part of the exhibition at the MOCA venue.
  • Other museum shows at Kunstmuseum, Bern; College of the Canyons Art Gallery, Santa Clarita, California; Santa Monica Community College, Santa Monica; Museum Jan van der Togt, Amstelveen, Netherlands.
  • Selected solo gallery exhibitions at Galleri GKM Siwert Bergstrom, Malmö, Sweden; Richard Gray Gallery, New York and Chicago; Gallery Delaive, Amsterdam; Lawrence Rubin Greenberg Van Doren Fine Art, New York; Galerie Guy Pieters, Saint-Paul de Vence, France; Galerie Proarta, Zurich; Brian Gross Gallery, San Francisco; Galerie Pudelko, Bonn; Galerie Thomas, Munich; Galerie Boisserée, Cologne; Galerie Iris Wazzau, Davos, Switzerland; Ace Gallery, Beverly Hills; Artemis Greenberg Van Doren Gallery, New York; Robert Green Fine Arts, Mill Valley, California; Broadbent Gallery/Robert Sandelson Galleries, London; Galerie Thomas, Munich; American Contemporary Art Gallery, Munich; Leslie Sacks Fine Art, Los Angeles; Kaare Berntsen, Oslo; Jack Rutberg Fine Arts, Los Angeles; Galleria Repetto, Acqui-Termi, Italy; L&M Arts, New York; Bernard Jacobson Gallery, London.
  • Idemitsu Museum of Arts, Tokyo organizes major exhibition that travels to six museums in Japan. Other museum shows at Las Vegas Art Museum, Las Vegas; Musée d’Art et d’histoire, Freiburg, Switzerland; Museum Jan van der Togt, Amstelveen, Netherlands;
  • Sam Francis Estate begins transfer of documentary archives of the artist’s estate to the Getty Research Institute Library and Special Collections, Los Angeles. The Sam Francis Estate closes and all assets and reproduction rights are transferred to the Sam Francis Foundation.

 

Sam Francis exhibition, Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, 2014; photo courtesy Crocker Art Museum, photo by Jesse Bravo

Sam Francis exhibition, Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, 2014; photo courtesy Crocker Art Museum, photo by Jesse Bravo

2010-2014

  • Solo museum exhibitions at Danubiana Meulensteen Art Museum, Bratislava, Slovak Republic; Pasadena Museum of California Art, Pasadena; Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento.
  • Solo gallery exhibitions at Galerie Delaive, Amsterdam; Helly Nahmad Gallery, New York; Galerie Koch, Hannover, Germany; Galerie Thomas Modern, Munich; Galerie Jean Fournier, Paris; Nantenshi Gallery, Tokyo; Page Gallery, Seoul; Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York; Galerie Kornfeld, Bern; Robert Green Fine Arts, Mill Valley, California; Martin Lawrence Galleries, New York; S2 Gallery, Sotheby’s, New York; Jonathan Novak Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Galerie Iris Wazzau, Davos, Switzerland; Leslie Sacks Fine Art, Los Angeles.
  • Publication of Sam Francis: Catalogue Raisonné of Canvas and Panel Paintings, edited by Debra Burchett-Lere with essay by William C. Agee; published by the University of California Press (Berkeley) and the Sam Francis Foundation.

2015-current

  •  Solo museum exhibitions at Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, Charlotte, North Carolina; Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee; Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena; Amon Carter Museum of Western Art, Fort Worth, Texas
  • Solo gallery exhibitions at Bernard Jacobsen Gallery, London; Manny Silverman Gallery, Los Angeles; Galerie Koch, Hannover, Germany; Samuel Vanhoegaerden Gallery, Knokke, Belgium
  • The foundation continues documenting and researching data for the planned publication of the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of “unique works on paper from 1940s to the 1990s” (scheduled to begin online postings 2017).
  • The Sam Francis Foundation continues organizing exhibitions, donating artworks to charitable institutions across the United States, and managing the documentary archives. The staff continues researching and providing educational data to the public that promotes  knowledge about the art of Sam Francis. Projects include a variety of educational programs and outreach events with the goal of perpetuating the creativity legacy of the artist.