Sam Francis, ‘Bright Ring’, 1966, Phillips

This work is included in the Sam Francis: Catalogue Raisonné of Canvas and Panel Paintings, published by the University of California Berkeley Press (UC Press: 2011) under the number SFF.451 and is also registered in the archives of the Sam Francis Foundation with the number SFP66-8 and SFP66-9. This information is subject to change as scholarship continues by the Sam Francis Foundation.

From the Catalogue:
“The space at the center of these paintings is reserved for you.” –Sam Francis

Sam Francis’s Bright Ring, 1966, represents the two elements for which the American painter was most concerned with throughout his career: color and space. In his abstract compositions, Francis made these elements not only tools for the creation of his paintings, but rather the subject matter of these works in their own right. This is particularly evident in the artist’s series of “edge paintings,” to which the present lot belongs. The purpose of the edge paintings was to show the power of color with the overwhelming presence of contrasting white. In Bright Ring, the thin borders of the canvas are rendered in rich ultramarine blue, fiery oranges and reds, and almost-black greens, which blend into each other and enclose a bright white canvas, almost entirely clean except for a few drips of paint. In his portrait of the artist accompanying Francis’s 1993 retrospective, Pontus Hulten explains “white is here, it seems, playing the roles both of color and space in the sense of openness… The central, often enormous, white surface is suspended between the actual canvas surface and an undefined situation in front or behind or rather oscillating between definition and non-definition.” (Pontus Hulten, Sam Francis, exh. cat., Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland in Bonn, p. 28) While the white central space dominates the composition, it lurks between foreground and background, drawing attention to the vibrant strips of color at its edges, and thus, blurring the confines of the space it occupies. The white space exists almost as a beam of bright light, radiating from the canvas; Francis’s use of dark, saturated hues seem to be a conscious decision for making the white stand out even more starkly, creating a beam of light for the viewer to get lost in. “When I paint, I try to create the feeling of being in it”, Francis was quoted to have said (“New Talent,” Time, New York, January 1956, p. 72). This is the essence of the edge paintings, which not only explore the roles of color and space, but highlight their sheer power to transform the viewing experience.
Courtesy of Phillips

Signature: signed and stamped 'Sam Francis' on the reverse; further numbered 'SFP66-8' several times on the overlap and stretcher

Tokyo Central Bijutsukan Gallery; Osaka, Gutai Pinacotheca, Sam Francis, May 10 - June 17, 1968
New York, ACA Galleries, Looking West, September 19 - October 14, 1972, no. 16 (illustrated)
Paris, Pavillon des Arts, organized with the Idemitsu Museum of Arts; Humlebaek, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art; Ogawa Art Foundation, Tokyo, L’oeuvre de Sam Francis dans les collections du Musée Idemitsu, September 18, 1986 - December 5, 1987
Zurich, Galerie Proarta, Sam Francis: Bilder 1949 bis 1968, May 26 - July 23, 2004, pp. 46-47 (illustrated)

Debra Burchett-Lere, ed., Sam Francis: Catalogue Raisonné of Canvas and Panel Paintings 1946-1994, Berkeley, 2011, cat. no. SFF.451, DVD I (illustrated)

André Emmerich Gallery, New York
Private Collection, New York (acquired from the above in 1969)
Sotheby's, New York, May 16, 1979, lot 350
André Emmerich Gallery, New York (acquired at the above sale)
Sam Francis, California (acquired via exchange with the above in 1983)
Sam Francis Estate, California (acquired from the above in 1994)
Galerie Proarta, Zurich (acquired from the above in 2000)
Private Collection
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2016

About Sam Francis

The painterly abstraction of Sam Francis is most often associated with the American Abstract Expressionist movement, but Francis also spent a great deal of time in Paris and became linked with the parallel movement of Art Informel in Europe. Francis’ most iconic works are characterized by saturated splashes of color that populate the edges of the canvas in order to emphasize the luminous white void in the center. This contrast between the vibrancy of Francis’ color palette and the austere white picture plane demonstrate the artist’s concern with relationships of space, color, and light, as opposed to the psychologically expressive tendencies of contemporaries such as Jackson Pollock.

American, 1923-1994, San Mateo, California, based in Paris and Santa Monica, California