LOT 201

1923 - 1994

Untitled, Los Angeles
acrylic on canvas
on verso signed, titled and dated 1983 on the gallery labels
18 x 14 7/8 in, 45.7 x 37.8 cm

Estimate: $40,000 - $60,000 CAD

Sold for: $49,250

Preview at: Heffel Toronto – 13 Hazelton Ave

André Emmerich Gallery, New York, inventory #SFP83-107
Gallery One, Toronto
The Joan Stewart Clarke Collection, Vancouver

André Emmerich Gallery, New York, Sam Francis: Paintings on Paper, October 13 – November 5, 1983
Gallery One, Toronto, Art of Our Time: A Selective View, November 30 – December 18, 1985

Sam Francis was a prominent member of the American Abstract Expressionists. He worked in the Bay area of California, USA, in the 1940s and in France in the 1950s. Like the porous canvas into which the vibrant pigments of Untitled, Los Angeles soak, he absorbed and made his own the most prominent techniques and priorities of American Abstract Expressionism, cognate abstract work in Europe and the tenets of Asian art (after spending time in Japan). Francis was included in critic Clement Greenberg’s pivotal 1964 exhibition Post-Painterly Abstraction. Greenberg chose 31 painters – among them Helen Frankenthaler, Ellsworth Kelly, Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, Jules Olitski and Frank Stella, as well as Canadians Jack Bush, Kenneth Lochhead and Arthur McKay – to announce new priorities in abstraction. These included a greater emphasis on saturated colour across the field of the canvas and less dependence on painterly gesture, which the influential Greenberg argued had become mannered in the New York School. Though he boldly deployed the foundational drip technique of Jackson Pollock in this painting, Francis was part of the evolution of and away from the peak of Abstract Expressionism in the 1940s and 1950s.

By the time Untitled, Los Angeles was produced in 1983, any reference to a Pollock drip could seem like a ready-made or even an empty sign. What is remarkable about this painting is how seriously and innovatively the languages of Abstract Expressionism can still be “spoken” by Francis in fresh ways. Redeploying the techniques of the movement, he was anything but cynical. The Pollock-like drips and the Frankenthaler-like bleeds still work in all senses of that word. Only lightly marked, the absorbent white support acts as a frame within the physical frame, one that displays the gestural activities and almost psychedelic colours that centre the surface. One clue to the structural integrity of Francis’s surface is the contrast between the organic splatters and spills towards the edges and the notably sharp-edged rectilinearity of what becomes for our eyes a cross in the centre of the composition. In a similar formal and chromatic negotiation, what we might identify as a shorter horizontal and a longer vertical rectangle overlap to form this cross. Sometimes their contours meld and sometimes they are distinct, but the image remains cruciform. The abundance of white, unmarked canvas that Francis leaves inside this assertive form takes nothing away from its outline, its existence as geometry in this potentially confusing welter of change.

While Francis is rightly remembered as a colourist of great ability and range, in Untitled, Los Angeles we also readily appreciate how his eye-popping tonal range – from stark white to absolute black – heightens the impact of the whole. The materials and elements of the painting, like the international styles and traditions that Francis knew so well, collaborate.

We thank Mark Cheetham, Professor of Art History at the University of Toronto, for contributing the above essay. Cheetham is the author of two books on abstract art: The Rhetoric of Purity: Essentialist Theory and the Advent of Abstract Painting and Abstract Art Against Autonomy: Infection, Resistance, and Cure since the 60s.

This work is included in the Sam Francis: Online Catalogue Raisonné Project as catalogue #SFF.850 (Francis Archive SFP83-107).

For the biography on Joan Stewart Clarke in PDF format please click here.

Estimate: $40,000 - $60,000 CAD

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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