Signed and dated 1987 on the reverse
Acrylic on canvas
94 by 56.5 in. (238.8 by 142.9 cm.)
Heland Thordén Wetterling Galleries, Stockholm
Gana Art Gallery, Seoul (acquired from the above in 1991)
Sotheby’s, New York, 5 May 1994, Lot 149
Private Collection, 2016
Stockholm, Heland Thordén Wetterling Galleries,
Sam Francis, September – October 1987
Seoul, Gana Art Gallery, Sam Francis, June – July 1991, n.p. illustrated in color
Debra Burchett-Lere, Sam Francis, Catalogue Raisoneé of Canvas and Panel Paintings,
1946-1994, Berkeley 2011, no. SFF.1425, illustrated in color
A lively display of Francis’ endless creative spirit, Nous, from 1987 is a joyful celebration of color. Although it is this color that draws the eye of the viewer, it was often the confrontation with white that captivated Francis. In this work we see the skillful manipulation of not only the paint itself but also of the blank canvas behind. These intentionally visible intervals of white beneath the composition are the culmination of decades of exploration that involved going from one extreme to the other; completely covering the canvas from edge to edge, and then clearing the canvas leaving only bars of color to remain along the outskirts. Through each transition of Francis’ career it was this field of white space that kept him completely enchanted, choreographing and maneuvering the paint until finally, during the last phase of his career, it found the perfect balance.
At recurring intervals throughout Francis’ career, white has predominated his practice, as it did in the hospital room where he made his first brushstrokes. Large areas of canvas or paper are left free, allowing the color to float above them like obscure and complex shapes and forms. Francis masterfully configures drips, splashes and strokes of thinned paint that, whilst spontaneous in appearance, have been meticulously mapped out beforehand. The aesthetic success of Francis’ compositions is considerably enhanced by the materials he used. Insisting on mixing his own pigments, Francis personally composed a subtle range of colors, which were constantly being refined. By focusing on color, Francis reduced any references to external elements, allowing him to cultivate a language which referred solely to itself. As curator Pontus Hulten points out; “in Sam Francis’ paintings color is often the subject, the essence, the substance of the work. He uses color as force, as a revelation of unknown or little-known powers that surround us at all times. Color for him is a dimension to be explored. It has its own resources” (Pontus Hulten in Exh. Cat., Sam Francis, Bonn, 1993, p. 28).
The fluid movement and circular motions that are created in Nous reflect an element of rhythm and cycle that recurs throughout the entirety of Francis’ artistic development. At certain moments he picked up and revisited elements which, on previous occasions he had left partially explored. The curved shape which transfixes the eye on an impressively large scale alludes to a continuation, as if the viewer is seeing a small loop of an endless piece of string. Indeed Francis’ practice, which spanned decades, rather feels like an infinite search for the moment when light, color, space and composition come together seamlessly. Francis finally perfected this balance of elements during the final phase of his career, as exemplified through the present lot, Nous.