Blue Symphony by Sam Francis

“Color is light on fire. Each color is the result of burning, for each substance burns with a particular color.”

Some artists’ work is easily recognizable by a set of specific elements that appear in almost every painting. Take, for example Jackson Pollock, whose drips are unmistakably his. Barnett Newman‘s vertical zips are the artist’s signature gesture, and Mark Rothko‘s horizontal floating clouds of color are nobody’s but his. So is Sam Francis‘ puzzle-like compositions with brilliant soft and watery fields of blues, reds, greens and yellows can be seen as the core DNA of Francis’ paintings. As in Blue Symphony here, they are often arranged along the top of the vast canvas or along the perimeter, as if framing the canvas from within.

Unlike Barnett Newman, whose flat opaque layers of even reds, blues, whites and browns emphasize the flatness of the surface – after all it’s a two-dimensional space, Francis  draws with a combination of translucent, semi-opaque and opaque pigments. He creates movement, delicate tension and density through careful alignment of these “puzzle pieces”.

Notice, how he lets the paint drip! This simple drip of color actually is a sign of the artist’s tremendous sense of control and freedom at once! Control of the pigment and it’s viscosity (thickness) and knowing how it will travel and freedom and allowing the paint to do what it’s meant to do – cover a surface.

Blue Symphony is also typical of Sam Francis’ work in that it was inspired by his aerial travels and maps. If you look at this composition carefully, you can almost see an aerial view of a cluster of lakes, framed by bright fields…

As far as Abstract Expressionists go, Sam Francis is probably the artists whose work and philosophy has had the most impact on his peers than any other artist of the generation.

Image courtesy of Sotheby’s.

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