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Sam Francis

Red Again, 1972
Screenprint on Arches Cover White paper

24 3/4" x 30 3/4”

Museum purchase assisted by the National Endowment for the Arts, 1975

“I get a sensuous feeling from silk—I’m approaching silkscreen as a poetic image.”

~ Sam Francis


Born in 1923 in San Francisco, Sam Francis entered Berkeley in 1941 where he studied botany, Zen philosophy, and psychology. Like many artists of his generation, though, his education was interrupted by the Second World War when he enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1943. He returned to Berkeley in 1948 to complete his BA, now in art history, followed by completion of his MA in fine art in 1950. Also like many American artists of his and the previous generation, Francis spent several formative years in France, where he studied briefly with Fernand Leger. And, like fellow West Coast artist Mark Tobey, Francis also spent a good deal of time painting and reading Eastern philosophy in Japan, where he became familiar with haboku, the flung ink style of painting which came to be his hallmark.

Francis, a second generation Abstract Expressionist, was a prolific printmaker who worked at many different workshops around the world throughout his career. As was the case with many of the postwar artists held in the permanent collection of the WFMA, his first exposure to printmaking came under the tutelage of Tatyana Grosman at Universal Limited Art Editions in New York (see, for example, Larry Rivers, Jasper Johns, Helen Frankenthaler, Robert Motherwell, Jim Dine, Robert Rauschenberg). Though Grosman introduced him to printmaking in 1959, it wasn’t until he was back in California and working at one of the other great postwar printmaking studios—Tamarind Lithography Workshop in Los Angeles—that he truly embraced the medium in 1963. Seven years later, Francis opened his own small printmaking studio in Santa Monica, but he continued working with professional workshops throughout his career, including Gemini G. E. L., also in LA. As is the case above, many of the artists represented in the WFMA also worked at Gemini, including Claes Oldenburg, Frank Stella, and Wayne Thiebaud, Ron Adams, among others.

It was at Gemini that Francis first worked in the screenprint or silkscreen method, composing Red Again as part of a series of eight prints between May and December of 1972. In the work, we see four brightly colored amorphous shapes floating unanchored along the outskirts, partially within, partially without, straddling that liminal in-between space. These multi-layered globules highlight the whiteness of the central space, while also exploring the outer edges of paper and perception. Though the work is composed of only five colors—green, red, yellow, blue and magenta—the screenprint method allowed Francis to layer one inked screen over the other, creating what appear to be a total of ten or eleven colors. Do the four organic shapes exist in the great expanse of the void, or are they amebic blobs amplified 1000X on a microscopic slide? And what’s with all of the movement—Zip! Zam! Zoom!—across the field? What are these dynamic gestural splatters, drips, and splashings we associate with action painting doing here? Are these speeding drops of color bombarding the four larger images, invading their peaceful isolation? Or have we inadvertently happened across a moment of nature’s reproductive fertility in action? Why all this movement? Why all this color? Why all these questions?

Well, most of us embark on the task when looking at abstract art, myself included, of trying to “un-abstract” it; that is, to see things in it that just aren’t there, kind of like when we would lay down on the grass as kids and look for images in the clouds—somehow I never failed to not see bunnies, sailboats, and old Honest Abe. Artworks like Red Again ask a lot of us; they ask us to leave “us” behind in a similar way to the Eastern philosophy Francis and many of the West Coast artists and writers were reading at the time. No matter how well-versed I become in Zen and Taoist philosophy, no matter how well I think I understand the concept of relinquishing the ego, I still, for the life of me, see flowers in Red Again and, for that matter, our sixteenth president donning his stovepipe hat in the clouds. Perhaps looking for reference points in art and nature is part of what makes us human, what keeps us coming back to the museum (and the grass) again and again. I don’t know. What do you see?


Works Consulted

Acton, David. “Abstract Expressionist Prints at Tamarind.” Tamarind: Forty Years. Ed. Marjorie Devon. Albuquerque: U of New Mexico P, 2000. 5-35.

Acton, David. Stamp of Impulse: Abstract Expressionist Prints. MA: Worcester Art Museum, 2001.

Castleman, Riva. Prints of the Twentieth Century: A History. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1976.

Einstein, Susan. “The Prints of Sam Francis.” Sam Francis by Peter Selz. Harry N. Abrams, 1975. 225-246.

Fine, Ruth E. Gemini G.E.L.:  Art and Collaboration. Washington: National Gallery of Art, 1985.

Sparks, Esther. Universal Limited Art Editions, A History and Catalogue: The First Twenty-Five Years. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, 1989.

Red Again from the Permanent Collection of the Wichita Falls Museum of Art at MSU Texas


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