Retrospective in Blue

Sam Francis
19. June 2010 to 29. August 2010
Nico Delaive
Gerard Meulensteen

The Danubiana Meulensteen Art Museum arranged the largest retrospective of Sam Francis in Europe. The exhibition was the most important event in its 10-year history and a special occasion on the Slovak art scene.
Sam Francis is one of the leading figures of the post-war wave of American abstract art. His work was influenced by his exposure to European art, Oriental philosophy, Zen painting and calligraphy. Although he ranks among the protagonists of Action painting, his perception of painting is more open. It is not concerned with the projection of his own ego, but reaches beyond the boundaries of subjectivism. This results in his perception of painting according to which empty space, the combination of colours with light and the light transformed into whiteness, plays an important role. His work transforms in relation to space.
His perception of white space as a philosophical category with cosmological aspirations interferes into the self-referential approach characteristic of Action painting, placing his work at a qualitatively different level. His artistic expression was based on colour and light into which he transformed the four elements of nature – Earth, Water, Air and Fire – in the spirit of Zen philosophy. Sam Francis was an extremely sensitive colourist. To translate his idea of painting into reality, he had special hues mixed, applying them with paintbrushes of various thickness, rollers and dies. He intuitively exploited colour, light and space, achieving an extraordinary variability. Blue, used in a unique manner, became his iconic colour.
The colour areas of his paintings created a feeling of illusion of infinite space reaching beyond earthly dimensions. Sometimes he compared colour to fire, perceiving it as a powerful fiery element. He did not make any preparatory drawings or sketches, but rather “prepared himself”.
For Sam Francis the format of the picture played an important role. It partially resulted in the concept of spatial incompleteness – overlapping with the realm of extrasensory perception. At the same time the size can be put into context with the heritage of the category of “grandeur” established by the pioneers of American Abstract Expressionism. The artist’s work confirms the fact that the picture is not limited by its materiality, but its inner dimension extends the range of vision.
The retrospective of Sam Francis presented works from all his creative periods. It displayed a wide range of application of colour, and use of surface area and space: spontaneous gestures, calligraphic lines, coloured surfaces, pools, drips and splatters of colour, filling the surface and reaching beyond its boundaries. In other works the picture is the medium of pure white and the colour modestly recedes beyond its margins. Sam Francis used colour and space as mutually variable constants, changing their substance.