Los Angeles

Sam Francis

Otis Institute Gallery

In an exhibition of works in progress, Sam Francis displays four major canvases which bring his (sometimes cyclic) evolution up to date. In two of these, Francis’ bands jag and collide in their familiar, delicately balanced “random” formations. In the others, a grid pattern is formed: one has nearly perfect squares, like the warp and woof of some fabric, incredibly magnified; the other has rectangles with a few diagonals transecting the plane as Broadway traverses midtown Manhattan.

The bands lose nothing of their interest in forming these grids; their anecdotal and gestural richness is, if anything, intensified by being placed within the “cool” context of geometric pattern. The square grid, especially, presents an interesting interplay between the series of regular intersections—each different, each the same—and the succession of spontaneous, seemingly undisciplined passages of which the bands are composed—just as this activity within the band constantly threatens (but never manages) to decompose the edge.

As the gestural violence of Francis’ work increases, however, so does the violation of the band. Where in earlier works incidents existed at intervals within the “allowed” context of the band with fairly minimal “leakage,” they now fill it and spread—in splatters, stains and streaks—across the white ground to create a quasi-independent system, nervous and violent, of their own.

Francis’ almost totally white paintings of a decade ago have given way to denser, darker, more aggressive work. His bands of bright primary and secondary colors have broadened and darkened, often to sections of an impenetrable blue-black, while the airy, California ’60s breeziness which he once seemed almost to epitomize, and which endured through successive modulations, seems in the process of being replaced by a darker, more violent and pessimistic esthetic.

Bjorn Rye