Nuanced Splendor: The Monochromatic Masterpieces of “Sam Francis – Distilled” – By The Pasadena Now WEEKENDR

Mar 3, 2024
Untitled, by Sam Francis. 1974, Original Lithograph in Four Colors, 27 1/2 x 41 5/8 inches.

Immerse yourself in the captivating monochromatic realm of renowned artist Sam Francis at the anticipated art exhibition, “Sam Francis – Distilled,” making its grand debut at Jack Rutberg Fine Arts on Sunday.

The showcase is an exclusive exploration of Francis’ rarely-seen monochromatic graphic works. The monochrome is mesmerizing. Far from blanketing sameness, the works beckon the viewer to discover their nuanced beauty. 

The Rutberg exhibition complements 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.

The opening reception in Pasadena will take place May 21, 2023, from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. Attendees will have the opportunity to explore the exhibition and engage with Francis’ masterful creations.

While Sam Francis is widely recognized for his vibrant and colorful artworks, “Sam Francis – Distilled” sheds light on what can be considered the purest essence of his artistic vision. The exhibition delves into Francis’ exploration of the dynamic energy that arises from the tension between opposites, the yin and yang of black ink splatters and brushstrokes across vast white spaces. These rare original graphic works feature subtle shades of black and almost imperceptible gradations of color, creating an extraordinary effect reminiscent of celestial realms.

Francis’ commitment to distilling his compositions is evident in this collection of black and white prints. Even though he produced color prints, Francis would proof his works in black and white to assess their visual impact. Some of these plates were occasionally used to create limited editions in black and white.

Sam Francis working in the Litho Shop, Broadway studio, Santa Monica, 1980. (Detail) Photo © Kurt Blum, Courtesy Sam Francis Foundation, California.

However, “Sam Francis – Distilled” showcases predominantly black and white works that subtly incorporate touches of color, offering a unique perspective on one of America’s most significant post-war artists.

Sam Francis, born on June 25, 1923, in San Mateo, California, embarked on an artistic journey that took him from Paris to Santa Monica. Achieving international recognition, he became known as the first post-war American painter to attain global stature. Notable 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). Francis was featured in significant events like 12 Americans at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1956) and Documenta, Kassel, West Germany (1964).

“Sam Francis – Distilled” pays homage to Francis’ pivotal museum exhibition held at the Pasadena Museum of Art (now Norton Simon Museum) in 1959. Curated by gallery owner Jack Rutberg, the exhibition showcases what Rutberg regards as Francis’ most intimate and distinctive works. These pieces were influenced by the artist’s study of Jung’s theories on dreams and memory, his affinity for literature and poetry, his fascination with Eastern religion and philosophy, and his experimentation with surrealist and Dadaist concepts of controlled accidents.

Francis’ dedication to printmaking is a recurring theme throughout his artistic career. In 1970, he established his own print studio, the Litho Shop, and later in 1984, Lapis Press, which published texts on and by various contemporary artists. Printmaking played a vital role in Francis’ visual thinking and contributed significantly to his body of work.

The setting for the exhibit is Jack Rutberg Fine Arts, formerly located on La Brea Avenue in Los Angeles for more than 37 years, 

The Rutberg gallery early pioneered L.A.’s mid-Wilshire/Hollywood gallery scene in 1981 at a location not known for art galleries, though mere blocks from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, propelling the boom that followed, in an area that ultimately housed more than 30 art galleries.

The gallery relocated to Pasadena and reopened here earlier this year.

Jack Rutberg Fine Arts is located at 600 South Lake Avenue, #102 in Pasadena. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., and Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Free parking entry on South Lake Avenue. Gallery entrance is through the lobby. 

For further information phone: (323) 938-5222 or email