Past Exhibition

Sam Francis – Distilled

May 21 – July 1, 2023
Extended through July 29, 2023

Untitled, 1974 Original Lithograph in Four Colors 27 1/2 x 41 5/8 inches

Sam Francis – Distilled exclusively focuses upon a hugely important aspect of Francis’ rarely seen monochromatic graphic works. It compliments the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s present Sam Francis exhibition which runs through July 16, keying upon Francis’ profound intercultural dialogue between Western and Eastern aesthetics.

While best known for his brightly colored works, the exhibition investigates what might be regarded as the purest aspect of Francis’ vision, through his exploration of the energy created by the tension of opposites; the yin and yang of black ink spattered and painted across the negative, open spaces and fields of white paper.

Often employing varied shades of black and nearly imperceptible gradations of color, these rare original graphic works, through contrast and transparency, have an extraordinary effect suggestive of celestial realms.

Even as Francis created color prints, he proofed those works in black and white, allowing him to distill his compositions in a manner whereby he could easily judge their visual impact. On some occasions, those plates were also used to create a very limited black and white edition. However, in Sam Francis – Distilled, the majority of works were exclusively conceived and executed ostensibly in black and white but actually with touches of color offering a rare view of one of America’s major post war-artists.

Untitled, 1975 Original Lithograph 38 1/4 x 28 inches
Sam Francis working in the Litho Shop, Broadway studio, Santa Monica, 1980. (Detail) Photo © Kurt Blum, Courtesy Sam Francis Foundation, California.

Born on June 25, 1923, in San Mateo, California, Sam Francis moved to Paris in 1950, and attended the Atelier Fernand Léger. His first solo exhibition was presented in 1952 in Paris at Galerie Nina Dausset. He moved back to California in 1962, ultimately settling in Santa Monica. His extensive international exhibitions underscore the frequent citation that Sam Francis was the first post-war American painter to achieve international stature.

Important early museum exhibitions include: Pasadena Art Museum (1959); Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (1967); Centre National d’art Contemporain, Fondation Rothschild, Paris (1968); Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1972); Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (1979); and Museum of Modern Art, Toyama, Japan (1988). He was included in 12 Americans at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1956), and in Documenta, Kassel, West Germany (1964).

Referencing Francis’ major museum exhibition at the then-important Pasadena Museum of Art (now Norton Simon Museum) in 1959, Sam Francis – Distilled is now presented 63 years later at the Jack Rutberg Fine Arts gallery, revealing what gallery owner, Jack Rutberg regards as Sam Francis’ most intimate and unique works, fueled by the artist’s study of Jung’s theories on dreams and memory, a love of literature and poetry, his fascination with Eastern religion and philosophy, and the surrealist and Dada-ist experiments with controlled accidents.

Sam Francis’ commitment to printmaking, with its distinctive properties, became part of his overall visual thinking and was paramount to his body of work. In 1970 he founded his own print studio, the Litho Shop, and later in 1984, Lapis Press, producing texts on and by a wide range of contemporary artists from Richard Long to Ed Ruscha.