On Saturday evening I attended the opening of Sam Francis' "Black and White" prints at Jack Rutberg's on La Brea. Francis is undoubtedly one of the heavyweights of Los Angeles abstract painting and I've always counted myself a fan - I am especially taken by his large scale untitled painting shown at Ace a couple of years ago (see here). I must confess though that I have always been a little put off by his use of high chroma and primary red, yellow and blue. The colors always felt lightweight in relation to the lyrical application of splatters and the epic spaces he invoked. The Rutberg show promised a chance to see Francis stripped down and essential. On entering the gallery one is struck by the comprehensiveness of the exhibit only to feel in the next moment that perhaps it is too comprehensive. There are quite a few pieces that never resolve out of a lumpen and formless grisaille. A few more are diamonds in the rough and only a handful are true gems that approach the sublime quality of Francis' best work. Among them the large piece pictured above (enlarge it to view it to advantage), Square(1973)(see it here) and White Chip(1973)(see it here). Silver Field(1973)(here) makes clear what should always be obvious in Francis' work but is here (without the distraction of a high chroma) very noticable - namely his debt to Jackson Pollock. But where Pollock's sombre and melencholy pallette of tans, ochres and greys evoke a heroic but tragically doomed struggle against chaos and dissolution Francis' often sweet pallette makes his very similar drips and splatters seem at best a type of cosmic play - not unlike Miro. Another parallel or tangental connection this time to a fellow Los Angeles abstract heavyweight also surfaces in a small and clunky splatter grid - a format explored far more extensively and eloquently by Ed Moses (example here) about a decade later.
Ironically and contrary to the title of this exhibit Francis' most powerful works in this showing (such as the one pictured above) are achieved not through black and white but through a subtle and masterful use and blend of various tones of dark grey in which he is able to achieve a sublime and profound result of form and grace the equal to anyone.
At the opening I ran into my very first drawing teacher - Don Emery - who first introduced me to the term "mark making" at Santa Monica College circa 1982!
More on this exhibit from Jack Rutberg here.