Los Angeles

Sam Francis

Nicholas Wilder Gallery

The five large paintings and two smaller pictures in Sam Francis’s exhibition have been seen in New York and reviewed in these pages by Robert Pincus-Witten (December). The edge-elements, which cannot be even approximated in elfin reproductions, have come quite a way since first confusing me in Houston three years ago: they’re more painterly, veritable rainbows of combination mask and bleed which hug the edge, fan out, and alter transparencies. In making a judgment, one is presented with two basic alternatives: 1) Francis is getting designy, product-oriented, and predictable within his own mannerisms, or 2) Francis is making it tough again, reducing and re-examining his tools. I vote for the latter.

The edge-elements not only “contain” the white, but they bend it; the paintings have “space” in the old “push-and-pull” way. In its simplicity, the device of the edge-element is William Wiley, Monument to Black Ball Violence, black friction tape (in progress), Eugenia Butler dramatic: the white part of the painting is in itself uniform and coincidental with the surface; the white-plus-edge-element is, at that juncture, unique, existing spatially in varying locations other than the surface. Francis thus manages, with very little painting, to twist his big canvases into a superb state of tension; additionally, Francis maintains the sensuousness and delight distinguishing him from more pedestrian manipulators of the picture plane. The pictures, too, are up-and-down pictures in spite of their general airiness. Francis has the eye and the hand to make subtle variations in the “weight” of his colors work perfectly. If there is any disappointment it is in not being able to perceive the slight chromatic tints which are said to exist in his white grounds; perhaps he didn’t use them this time. Perhaps they are, in ordinary gallery lighting, impossible to see.

Peter Plagens