Van de Weghe Fine Art is pleased to present an exhibition of works on paper by Sam Francis (1923-1994) from the late 1950s. Francis’ works from this time are pivotal and encapsulate the concerns of all his future oeuvre: his concern with color, layering, and the utilization of the white picture plane. The exhibition is the first in the gallery’s new home on the 5th floor of 1018 Madison Avenue.

Born in California, Sam Francis came to art after he was severely injured on a test flight maneuver while serving in the US Army Air Corps in 1943. His recovery was long; he was hospitalized for nearly four years, during which time he was given a set of watercolors as a form of occupational therapy and began making paintings on paper. He continued painting after his release, studying studio art and art history at Berkeley. Francis was greatly influenced by Abstract Expressionist painters such as Mark Rothko, Arshille Gorky, and Clyfford Still and though Francis visited New York, he did not stay but continued on to Paris, where he spent much of the 1950s.

Francis’ work was enriched by his exposure to the paintings of Cézanne, Bonnard, Matisse and Monet, and by the quality of light in his Montparnasse studio. He quickly gained recognition in Paris as a kind of link between European and American abstraction. He travelled extensively throughout the world during the 1950s, and while his time in France impacted his use of color, his encounter with Asian art gave him an understanding of how to harness its power by using the white picture plane in conjunction with gestural, calligraphic mark-making. He visited Japan for the first time in 1957 where he found confirmation of his artistic inclinations. He appreciated the habokum, or “flung ink” style of Japanese painting and the tradition of painting as meditative experience. Francis developed a lyrical brushstroke that softened the edges of forms creating an intriguing relationship between figure and ground.

The paintings on paper included in the current exhibition are prime examples of works made at this time. Untitled, 1957, a composition in watercolor and gouache, moves vibrantly across the page. Francis’ judicious yet energetic brushwork activates the white ground with dashes and splatters of rich fluid color. Three Untitled works from 1958 underline the influence of Francis’ time in Asia with their light, asymmetrical compositions that gather toward the edge of the paper, evoking a space at once contained and infinite, as if viewed from far above. Composition, 1958, a watercolor on paper, resembles a branch laden with cherry blossoms darting vertically up the center of the paper.

Painting on paper was, by necessity, the genesis of Francis’ art-making, but even as he went on to travel widely, and make large, even vast, paintings on canvas and murals in 50s, he was simultaneously making work on this intimate scale, on paper. They formed a foundation for his practice and these works are some of his best.

Gallery hours are Monday-Friday, from 10:00am to 6:00pm, and by appointment. For further information, please contact Jenn Viola at jenn@vdwny.com.