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Pasadena Museum of California Art opens Sam Francis: Five Decades of Abstract Expressionism from California Collections

Pasadena Museum of California Art presents Sam Francis: Five Decades of Abstract Expressionism from California Collections an exhibition on view August 11, 2013–January 5, 2014, the first major museum exhibition of Francis’s work in over a decade. Known as one of the twentieth century’s most influential painters of light and color, Francis maintained studios in New York, France, Switzerland, and Japan but continually returned to his native California, finishing his last series of paintings in Santa Monica just before his death in November 1994. The exhibition brings together Francis’s paintings and unique works on paper from extraordinary public and private California collections, including many paintings on view to the public for the first time.

Born in June 1923 in San Mateo, near San Francisco, Francis started his career in California. He moved to France in 1950, and by 1956 he was described by Time magazine as “the hottest American painter in Paris these days,” signaling his arrival as one of the first post-World War II American painters to develop a truly international reputation. Having stated, “Painting is about the beauty of space and the power of containment,” Francis spent his career investigating that belief through his use of color, understanding of light, and lyrical rhythmic compositions. His works not only contributed to the range of styles and influences in the world of painting, he also referenced and responded to California Bay Area Modernism with his early paintings from the 1940s to early 1950s; French Impressionism, Abstract Expressionism, and Chinese and Japanese scroll paintings with his works from the 1950s; and Color Field Painting with paintings in the 1960s. Although his oeuvre can be loosely associated within these broad styles, his life and art were complex and varied, defying any specific characterization or interpretation.

Spanning fifty years, the works included in the exhibition explore Francis’s use of saturated tones (blues, reds, or yellows) and pigments ranging in hue from light to dark representing a kind of duality in the universe both understood and imagined. The exhibition includes some of his smallest works, which measure three by two inches, as well as monumental murals that are over ten feet long, each with a distinctive power and presence regardless of size or material. This exhibition includes some of the artist’s loosely defined series including the “Cellular” paintings from the 1950s, the “Blue Balls” and “Edge” paintings of the 1960s, and the “Fresh Air” and “Grids” from the 1970s. Other works include mandalas, late self-portraits, and Francis’s alchemically inspired works of the 1980s and early 1990s.

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