Sam Francis - prototypes
01 | Page
02 | Page
03 | Page
04 | Categories
| Recently sold
In 2003 gallery Delaive had the opportunity to acquire a large collection of prototypes from the Sam Francis estate. It has been a rare opportunity since Francis always has kept these works in his studio and never showed them to the public or had any interest in selling them. The estate has made a generous donation of one of these prototypes to the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
Each prototype is a unique work of art which served in its turn to create a monotype, another unique work of art.
Sam Francis working on a prototype at Garner Tullis workshop, Emeryville CA, 1982
The expression of inner experience is manifest in the paintings and works on paper of Sam Francis. The deep pleasure he takes in creating the 'monotypes' which he calls 'instant paintings' is partially based on the process involved in their execution. They are technical innovations, for in addition to the perfected techniques of handmade paper and mechanical implementation, there is the magical merging of opposites - of oil and acrylic, dry and wet - into one unified whole. Gouache, watercolor, dry pigments, inks and oil are al used at the same time,on a shiny copper plate which is then placed into a gigantic machine, along with the heavy handmade paper, and subjected to considerable pressures. This process melts, heats and fuses everything together in an immediate flash - producing works in which the image and paper are are one. "What I like about those things," Sam Francis says, "is that you make a drawing on a piece of metal and it looks like nothing, except for the fact that the copper plate is beautiful. Then… you just push the button on the machines and it presses and smashes and puffs of blue smoke come out and then you pull it back down, and peel it off, and there is something beautiful, which you couldn't possibly have seen any other way. It wasn't there before. It isn't like a print either. In printmaking you know what you are doing: with this, I am learning."
Monotype is not a new medium. It was developed in the seventeenth century by Giovanni Castiglione, who made only about nine monotypes. Rembrandt also experimented with non-repeatable images on a copper plate. The first artist to produce a major body of work in monotype was Edgar Degas who painted on glass and transferred the painting to handmade paper by rubbing the back of the paper with the palm of his hand. In a later stage he would draw with pastel on many of these. The investigations and production of Sam Francis in this medium were relentless between 1974 and 1988. At first his technique was very traditional. He would paint a grid directly on a copperplate the same size as his paper and then add his all-over gesture, rapidly putting down marks on the plate to capture the essence of his expression.
In the second halve of the 1970's Francis began to create windows by putting a smaller plate on the large plate it deep within the paper. The plates of these preliminary models or prototypes were initially painted and laid down on a gesticulate background and then overlaid with additional gestures to knit them to the field. The secondary images of the positions of the first plates printed were left to be worked over and around in the second image, as the same shapes gyrated into changed positions with the repainted background.
Sam Francis working on a monotype at Litho Shop, Santa Monica, CA, 1977
In the series called Snow bones, Francis elaborated on this technique. He cut numerous metal plates to create deeper windows within the paper plane. This technique was combined with his newly discovered form of cancellation and addition. Francis would paint his gestures on the background plate and paint each of the smaller plates separately. He would then lay smaller plates on the gesticulated background, much like making a collage. It was a very direct and immediate process of cancelation and addition. He would adjust the balance of his composition with gestures over its complete form before printing the complete work. In a later stage he would sometimes drip the oil or watercolor into the dry pigment to create a sense of depth by altering the degree of dryness and wetness within the dry pigment. He also began using scissors to cut pieces of wood veneer and thin plastic sheet into central forms as well as into literally hundreds of slivers that at the last moment he would drop at random on the completed composition. The idea of using wood veneer in his prototypes came from a series in which he had to cut quarter-inch-thick Douglas fir plywood sheets into shapes and then arranged the shapes to create a negative space that either embossed as a positive white line or simply cut the area away.
A monotype is a unique work; it can be accepted or rejected, but not changed in any way. Certainly Sam Francis developed this medium as an art form further than all those who worked in the medium before him. In the words of the celebrated museum-director and curator Pontus Hulten: "The monotypes of Sam Francis are without parallel in the world of art today, not only because of the beauty of their color, their great luminosity, and the clarity and purity of their compositions, but also because of their birth process, which is the result of a passionate quest for perfection. They represent an extraordinary exploration of a medium that has never been brought to such a level of excellence".