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Sam Francis. Big Red. Paris 1953

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Sam Francis (American, 1923–1994)

Big Red

Paris 1953
Oil on canvas
10' x 6' 4 1/4" (303.2 x 194 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. David Rockefeller
MoMA Number:
© 2015 Sam Francis Foundation, California / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Audio Program excerpt

Abstract Expressionist New York: The Big Picture

, Ocober 3, 2010–April 25, 2011

Curator, Ann Temkin: Big Red is a title that is very literal in terms of describing what one sees.

Yet it's also a deceptively simple title because when you look at those layers of oil going from the top to bottom, side to side, you realize that, in fact, there's far more in that curtain of color than merely red, but layers of blues and yellows and oranges and so on that are interacting in a very subtle dance.

Sam Francis is one of the artists in this exhibition who never actually lived in New York. However, he came under the very direct influence of Clifford Still and Mark Rothko, both of whom were teachers in San Francisco at that point.

In 1950, Sam Francis moved from California to Paris. And, one often hears Sam Francis spoken about in relation to French painter Henri Matisse. Matisse's Red Studio is hanging one floor above us right now and it's this kind of large expanse of a very emotional color that left a real mark on Francis as well. And there's no question that the beauty of the red and the lightness of the way in which Francis worked with color can be connected to Matisse and other French artists.

Sam Francis said that "color is light on fire" and certainly this painting exemplifies that saying. The ability of color to seem like an animate force on this canvas is really quite miraculous.

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