7 February - 17 March 2001

Sam Francis

Special Proofs Prints from the Estate 1959 - 1990

    Of all the abstract expressionists, Sam Francis was the most prolific graphic artist and the most committed to the possibilities of printmaking. Between 1960 and 1990, he made over 300 lithographs, 20 screenprints and 125 etchings. In 1970 this commitment was underlined when he established his own printing workshop in Santa Monica, California - the Litho shop. Here, under the guidance of a team of master printers, he was able to print and experiment without any constraints.

    The editioned prints he produced are well known, and have had huge exposure throughout exhibition and reproduction. However the hundreds of special proofs which he made and signed at the same time as the editioned prints have, until now, remained relatively unknown.

    Together with the American dealer and Francis specialist, Jonathon Novak, we have acquired over two hundred of these pieces from the artist's estate and are now exhibiting a selection of them for the first time.

    For Francis, experimentation was an integral part of the printmaking process. Drawing the plates, selecting the colours and printing through various states took weeks at a time. Lithography, screenprint and etching offered variations and permutations that simply weren't available to him in painting and it was through the creation of experimental proofs that Francis could fully test the possibilities that an image held. He would use different colours, switch the position of the plates, and well as adding and subtracting various compositional elements. These were then marked as 'states', 'trial proofs', 'colour trial proofs',' variants' and 'experimental proofs' and were preserved for their own special qualities. Although he signed and annotated them, they were never commercially released.

    The proofs we are exhibiting afford us a fascinating and personal insight into the mind of the artist and the way he approached printmaking, Throughout the full range of his graphic work, from the early lithographs right up to the minimal 'edge' prints, it seems that Francis never considered any single image to be an end-point, but just one of a number of possibilities. The pieces in this exhibition provide an intimate and personal view of the artist. These are not images which Francis released to the outside world - they were produced for his own satisfaction and together make up an important, personal archive.

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