‘Manner, gesture, sound, line, and color – in these we have a primitive, pure, and direct means of expression’
(S. Francis, quoted in Sam Francis: Monotype Prints and Other Works, Tokyo 1990, unpaged).
With its intense splashes of blue, violet and black punctuated with specks of red paint, Untitled witnesses Sam Francis’ fervent engagement with the legacy of post-War abstraction. The freedom of the paint’s gestural application, reminiscent of Jackson Pollock’s, appears to breathe life into each brushstroke and drip, lending the work an engaging vitality. The glistening luminosity of the acrylic paint takes form in dynamic dark spills and bright red marks coming together in an all-over swirling mass of colour, a joyous explosion of energy in which Francis tried to ‘catch little essences of infinity that go floating by’ (S. Francis, quoted in D. Burchett-Lere, Sam Francis: Catalogue Raisonné of Canvas and Panel Paintings 1946-1994, Berkeley 2011, p. 241). The specks, drips and flecks of bright paint move and spread on the white surface, recalling the effect of ink on paper. These same properties are telling of Francis’ fascination with Japanese painting and Asian art, whose contrast of light and dark is especially recalled in Untitled. The artist travelled to Japan many times from 1958. His time there had been a revelation, and had an immediate impact on his art, whose abstraction became more meditative: a testimony to his interest in Zen Buddhism.
The artist’s appreciation of the works of the great French masters is also apparent in the effusive colours of Untitled, which instills the work with an intense luminosity. The sense of absorption owes much to the scale of the work itself. Whilst in Japan, Francis had received his first public commission, and was forced to work on a vast scale that he had never considered before. Francis not only overcame the problems that this project presented, but moreover retained throughout all of his career a great interest in the possibilities of large-scale painting. Recalling one of Francis’ greatest influences - Monet’s Nymphéas at the Orangerie in Paris - Untitled is filled with the same delicate yet overwhelming monumentality. As Francis stated: ‘Manner, gesture, sound, line, and color – in these we have a primitive, pure, and direct means of expression.’ (S. Francis, Sam Francis: Monotype Prints and Other Works, Tokyo 1990, unpaged).