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Sam Francis and Japan: Emptiness Overflowing

Sam Francis and Japan: Emptiness Overflowing at LACMA through July 16, 2023 (all photos from Megan Derry) 

As the title of this show implies, the crossover influence of pre- and post-war Japanese art and artistry on the painter Sam Francis creates a dialogue which invites the idea of ambiguity and uncertainty to the canvas. How does something empty overflow… into what? and where from? The idea of this show is to present Francis in the light of someone who studied the Japanese concept of “ma” – the dynamic between form and non-form – and applied it to his work in a very literal sense. The idea of empty space occupying both weight and form is a difficult one to articulate but, seen in person, becomes immediately apparent to the eye under the expert administration of Sam Francis. A blank canvas edged by color and brush strokes in motion, becomes a breathing thing, capable of shifting weight from one corner of the landscape to the other.

This expertly curated show at LACMA, helmed by Hollis Goodall, Leslie Jones, and Richard Speer, is the first of its kind to present Francis alongside numerous Japanese works (ranging from the late 18th century to the middle of the 21st century) which both inform and echo the artist’s personal aesthetic.

After graduating from UC Berkeley in 1950, Francis traveled to various artists’ communities around the globe, including but not limited to, New York, Paris and, most notably, Tokyo. And so began a lifelong relationship for Francis with Japan and, in particular, a patronage by Idemitsu Sazo (a Japanese oil magnate and art collector) which allowed Francis to travel to and stay in Tokyo for extended periods and further his immersement in Japanese art and culture.

Francis is known for his delicate brushwork, which evokes eastern calligraphy as well as his bold use of color and space that solidifies his place in the movement of Abstract Expressionism. The influence of Jackson Pollock will be immediately recognized as well in this extensive collection which arcs over more than three decades of Francis’ career.

Art critic Yonekura Mamoru once described Sam Francis’ white space as “emptiness overflowing” … a fitting title for this magnificent show.

Sam Francis and Japan: Emptiness Overflowing
April 9 – July 16, 2023
5905 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, California 90036


Buzz Contributor Megan Derry is a photographer and art enthusiast. 

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