Samuel Lewis Francis, known as Sam Francis, was born in 1923 in the city of San Mateo, California. He spent a quiet childhood with his parents, both teachers. The young man studied medicine and psychology.
As a reservist, he became a United States Air Force pilot during the Second World War. In 1944, during training, he suffered a terrible accident. His plane crashed in the desert. The young pilot suffered a severe spinal injury and spent several years immobilised on a hospital bed. This accident was at the origins of his career as an artist. Samuel Lewis Francis received a box of paint, and following the advice of his doctors, to pass the time and avoid depression, he learned to draw. The young man, who wore a corset and whose gestures were limited, quickly turned to watercolour, a technique that promoted the spontaneity of the gesture. These first works are simple and mainly represent what he saw, the sky, the clouds, the light… He was quickly overcome by the pleasure of painting. Throughout his life, Sam Francis remained convinced of the therapeutic virtues of art. He claimed that his painting came from his illness:
“I left the hospital through my painting (…) it was because I was able to paint that I could heal myself.”
Finally up and out of the hospital, Sam Francis began studying art in Berkeley, California between 1948 and 1950. He attended classes by Clyfford Still.
After this first encounter with abstract art, the painter moved to Paris; between 1950 and 1961, he worked in the capital and in the south of France. The end of this decade was marked by many periods of work abroad (Mexico City, New York, Bern, Tokyo), as well as large exhibitions. Sam Francis, supported by Matisse’s grandson Claude Duthuit and the art critic Michel Tapié, was offered his first solo exhibition in Paris (Galerie Nina Dausset) in 1952.
Between 1955 and 1975, Sam Francis exhibited around the world in major international galleries and museums: Paris, Seattle, New York, London, Tokyo, San Francisco, Basel, Los Angeles, Houston… Between 1973 and 1974, the artist lived and worked in Tokyo where he exhibited twice: at the Idemitsu Art Museum and at the Minami Gallery.
From 1975 he had successive solo exhibitions in Paris, New York, Chicago, Berne, Los Angeles…
Sam Francis was an immensely influential artist. He was the first painter after the American war whose work became known internationally. The artist died on November 4th, 1994, in Santa Monica.