Sam Francis

Blue Blood Stone


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Sam Francis 1923–1994
Lithograph on paper
Image: 844 × 632 mm
Presented by J.G. Cluff 1984

Display caption

A lithograph is made by drawing on the surface of a flat stone or zinc plate, then adding a type of ink that sticks to the crayoned marks and pressing a piece of paper against it to make a print. As the dripping and pooling of ink on these lithographs demonstrates, the process was suited to the sort of gestural marks that Francis made in his paintings. He was struck by the subtle receptivity of the 'stone' on which the print is drawn, saying 'you breathe on it and it shows'.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

P11071 Blue Blood Stone 1960

Lithograph 33 1/4 × 24 7/8 (844 × 632) on paper watermarked ‘RIVES’, printed by Emil Matthieu, Zurich and published by Klipstein and Kornfeld, Bern
Inscribed ‘Sam Francis’ b.r. and ‘31/50
Presented by J.G. Cluff 1984
Lit: Susan Einstein, ‘The Prints of Sam Francis. Lithographs and Silkscreens’, in Peter Selz, Sam Francis, New York, 1982, p.251
Repr: Sam Francis, exhibition catalogue, Kestner Gesellschaft, Hannover, April–May 1963, p.24 (col.)

In 1960 Sam Francis was living in Bern and suffering from tuberculosis. P11070 and P11071 were made during this stay in Switzerland and were among the first lithographs that the artist produced. According to Susan Einstein he was urged to try lithography by E.W. Kornfeld and was introduced to the printer by Gottfried Honegger. Matthieu printed the first series of lithographs, to which these belong, in the summer of 1960. Einstein writes:

Francis remembers this first session as being an intense learning experience. His fascination with lithography focusses on the stone itself - it is the basis for his imagery, the life-source of his prints. He perceives the stone as an animated substance with unique physical properties - ‘you breathe on it and it shows.’ Some of the first prints, bearing titles like Blue Blood Stone, Coldest Stone, and Serpent on the Stone, refer to his pursuit of a stone spirit. Thus, he acknowledges a mysterious element which remains partially beyond his control and which causes the image to rise out of the stone. When he comments, ‘A dream is the way I work on stone - not something I think about or formulate in my mind, he does not diminish his own creative role, but, on the contrary, professes that he is the unique medium through which these images can be revealed and preserved.

Although a number of the prints in this series relate to paintings made contemporaneously it was not Francis's intention to reproduce, on stone, ideas he had already used in paintings. Francis stated that ‘Images sometimes spill over into a painting and vice versa, but each is worked out in its own way’ (Einstein, p.252).

According to Wieland Schmied, writing in the Kestner Gesellschaft catalogue, the images in this series may refer to human organs and represent a ‘stoical (and typically American) attitude towards death and pain’ (p.14). During this period Francis made a number of paintings, commonly known as the ‘Blue Balls’ paintings, which seem to relate not only to human organs but also to Japanese art. Francis had visited Japan in 1957 and 1960. His treatment of space and the demonic nature of some of his images are likened by Selz to those found in Japanese art. P11070 is an image of this kind.

Both works are printed in blue and red; P11070 is predominantly blue and P11071 is predominantly red. Both works were executed in tusche which suited the artist's desire to transpose the drips and splashes of his paintings directly into the lithographic medium and to make gestural marks. Although the size of the lithographs is smaller than anything Francis had previously painted, the scale of the markings is large. According to Selz ‘the small size of the stone... affected his painting’ (note 38, p.280) in that the paintings of the early 1960s were in a smaller format than preceding works.

In commenting on this catalogue entry the artist stated that the title of P11070 ‘is part of one of W— Blake's aphorisms “Damn Braces Bless Relaxes”.

‘I speak to William Blake in my dreams & he sings to me.’

This entry has been approved by the artist.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986

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