Sam Francis

Concert Hall I


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Sam Francis 1923–1994
Lithograph on paper
Image: 561 × 447 mm
Purchased 1984

Catalogue entry

Sam Francis born 1923

P77042 Concert Hall I 1976

Lithograph 561 x 447 (22 1/8 x 17 5/8) on BFK Rives paper 739 x 587 (29 1/8 x 23 1/8); printed by George Page at the Litho Shop, Santa Monica, California, and published by the Litho Shop, Santa Monica, California in an edition of 75
Inscribed ‘Sam Francis' below image b.r. and ‘63/75' below image b.l.
Purchased at Christie's, London (Grant-in-Aid) 1984

The following entry has been approved by the artist. P77042 is the first of three lithographs forming ‘The Concert Hall' set on which Francis worked between July and August 1977 in response to a commission from Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek, Denmark. All three prints were printed in an edition of 75 by George Page, Master Printer, at Francis' own printmaking studio, The Litho Shop in Santa Monica, California. ‘Concert Hall I' (SF230: this is the print number assigned by the Litho Shop) was printed between 5 and 13 July from five aluminium plates in the following colour sequence: yellow, red, green, ultra-marine blue, purple. ‘Concert Hall II' (SF231) was printed between 8 and 25 July from four aluminium plates, colour sequence as follows: yellow, green, red, ultra-marine blue. ‘Concert Hall III' (SF231) was printed between 17 and 30 August from six aluminium plates in the following order: yellow, light green, light blue, red (magenta), turquoise blue and dark blue. Although not part of the commission, Francis made three related prints, all untitled, between October and November of the same year. These correspond closely to the ‘Concert Hall' set in that the same plates were used, but the untitled set was printed in a different system of colours. The untitled print which corresponds to ‘Concert Hall I' (SF234) was printed in green-black, black, brown-black, silver-green, and blue-black. The counterpart to ‘Concert Hall II' (SF233) was printed in brown-black, purple-black, silver-green and blue-black. The final, untitled print (SF235) differed slightly from ‘Concert Hall III' in that only five of the original six plates were used, the colours being, brown, green, blue, light brown, and dark blue.

That Francis should proceed in this way - producing two sets of prints which are formally related and yet disparate in terms of colour - is characteristic of his printmaking processes and exemplifies his conviction that ‘colour is one way to recognise/re-cognise' (quoted in Jan Butterfield, ‘Sam Francis "The other side of Wonder"', Art International, vol.23, Dec. 1979, p.50). It also demonstrates that Francis regards colour and form as being contingently related and attests his preoccupation with colour per se. Francis's use of colour derives, in one way, from an emotional source. The artist has stated that ‘Unconsciously ... I could be in a mood and not know it, and that would naturally be present in anything I was doing at that time; whatever I was dealing with; whatever relationships I made would be coloured. The painting or lithograph would soak up that hue or be dyed by that mood' (Sam Francis, The Litho Shop 1970-1979, exh. cat., Brooke Alexander Inc., Oct.-Nov. 1979, [p.17]). In another way, Francis's fascination with colour is an aspect of his artistic activity which is essentially intellectual in nature. Francis has explained that

I prefer to think of colours in relation to each other, rather than just one colour at a time. So, even very small amounts of colour related to large amounts of another have a very curious and mysterious relationship set up the minute you start using colour; I'm working with that all the time and I think about it and dream about it and read about it and I've studied it all my life (ibid., [p.17-20]).

In the studio, however, Francis's approach to printmaking is pragmatic rather than cerebral. Peter Selz has described Francis's method as follows:

He prefers to work alone until the images are drawn; then he works in collaboration with his craftsmen as each step in the long printing process is carried out. Francis's unique style is highly conducive to variations, achieved by omitting one of the colours or by changing the colours, orientation, or printing sequence of the stones. Final decisions are made during proofing sessions - dozens of proofs are tacked up all over the walls, and these are the final prints' (Sam Francis, New York 1982, p.257).

Peter Selz has also observed that, ‘Whenever Sam Francis is initiating a new phase in his stylative development, he makes innumerable drawings, prints and gouaches before turning to painting' (Selz 1982, p.133). The ‘Concert Hall' set is a case in point in that they were produced during a period of transition and collectively they represent a point of intersection of both old and new ideas.

The Tate's print belongs to the close of a phase, lasting from around 1972 to 1976 when, due to his deep involvement with Jungian thought and dream analysis, Francis had produced a large number of works based on the Mandala. This is a symbolic figure which occurs in both rectangular and round form. According to Jung, the rectangular mandala stands for the four corners of the world, while the circular mandala symbolises the Self. ‘Concert Hall I' is a mandala of the first type and takes the form of a large rectangle enclosing other receding rectangles, a format also employed in works such as ‘Mother Blue' 1974 (gouache, 762 x 559, 30 x 22, repr. Selz 1982, p.125 pl.56) and ‘Believe What You See', 1975 (acrylic on canvas, 1829 x 2134, 72 x 84, repr. ibid, p.28, pl.57). The closed nature of this form and the suggestion of recession within it relates to the influence upon Francis of Jung's observation that mandalas are used in Eastern civilisations ‘to consolidate the inner being or to enable one to plunge into deep meditation' (Carl Jung, Man And His Symbols, New York 1964, p.225). Peter Selz interprets this type of work as representing ‘doors into the tunnels of the unconscious, opening deeper and deeper towards the core' (Selz 1982, p.124). Nancy Mozur of The Litho Shop, Inc. has given the following explanation:

Sam during the time of this lithograph [Concert Hall I] was working with grid-like imagery and structure in his painting as well as geometric structures floating in space. Because of his involvement with Jungian psychology it is easy to project the mandala on to these forms. There is a wonderful ‘cosmic' sense and contained energy about them. However, recently he has decided not to use ‘mandala' in explaining these images (letter to the compiler dated 30 June 1988).

The other two prints in the set anticipate a new direction which Francis' work began to take during 1977. ‘Concert Hall II', although based on the rectangle, is not a mandala image. It relates instead to the grid-like structure which Francis was then evolving ‘in an attempt to attach himself to the earth' (quoted in Selz 1982, p.133). ‘Concert Hall III', juxtaposes the mandala image with the grid structure and is thus a work which bridges these two phases.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.368-9

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