The Space of Effusion
Sam Francis in Japan
Between abstraction and tradition: Sam Francis’s fruitful encounters with Japanese culture
1st edition, 2020
Text in English
224 pages, 140 color and 50 b/w illustrations
24 x 30 cm
In cooperation with Sam Francis Foundation in Pasadena, CA
One of the twentieth century’s leading abstract expressionists, Sam Francis (1923–94) was one of the few visual artists who traversed the globe multiple times during the 1950s and 1960s, becoming one of the first postwar American painters to develop a truly international reputation. Francis’s engagement with the world and his fascination and involvement with different cultures, in particular that of Japan, is explored in this compelling volume, published in conjunction with the exhibition Sam Francis and Japan: Emptiness Overflowing at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Richard Speer, a co-curator of the exhibition, offers astute insights into the visual, technical, and philosophical affinities between traditional Asian art and Francis’s work as a modern abstract painter. He delves into the relationship of Francis’s aesthetics to much older Japanese artistic traditions, in particular the concept of ma (間), a symbolically rich in-between zone that is paralleled in the lyrical deployment of negative space in Francis’s paintings. In addition, Speer looks at Francis’s friendships with many of the Gutai and Monoha artists and highlights their shared conceptual theories involving notions of time, space, and a limitless continuum.
A contemplative and discerning overview of the artist in Japan, the book draws on archival research and individual interviews with Francis’s Japanese colleagues, as well as family and friends. It suggests the transformative power of art as a cultural bridge while expanding our insight into the artist’s visual language and his devotion to the image. Francis’s own aphoristic essay “One Ocean One Cup,” first published in Japan in 1977, revealing the artist’s reactions to living and working in the transcendental Japanese environment, rounds out the book.
Richard Speer is a critic, author, and curator based in Portland, OR. He is co-curator of the landmark exhibition Sam Francis and Japan: Emptiness Overflowing at LACMA, Los Angeles (October 2020 to January 2021).
Debra Burchett-Lee is executive director and president of the Sam Francis Foundation.