Around the Blues is a very large oil painting by American artist Sam Francis. Its abstract composition features a brightly coloured mass of shapes in various tones of blue, as well as violet, red, orange, green, yellow, pink and black, interspersed with larger areas of white. Around the Blues was painted in Mexico City in 1957 but was later reworked in the artist’s New York studio in 1962 or 1963. First shown in New York at Martha Jackson Gallery, the painting was exhibited in Mexico City, Massachusetts, Fredericton in Canada, and London, exemplifying the mobility of artists and artworks in the increasingly transnational art world of the late 1950s.
This In Focus uses previously unpublished archival letters, photographs, press materials, shipping records and curatorial documents to chart the painting’s movements from 1957 to its acquisition by Tate in 1964. It explores the impact that the Parisian art world of the 1950s had on the development of Francis’s approach to abstraction, and how this context shaped the way Around the Blues was interpreted by critics, art historians and the artist himself. An essay on Francis’s love for air travel reveals how the psychological, physical and perceptual effects of flying inform his paintings, while another looks at different readings of Francis’s work put forward by Japanese critics and supporters when the artist visited Japan in the years of the ‘informel whirlwind’.
Published in July 2019, the project is authored by Natalie Adamson (University of St Andrews) with contributions by Elizabeth Buhe (Smithsonian American Art Museum) and Bert Winther-Tamaki (University of California, Irvine).
This In Focus project was made possible through support from the Terra Foundation for American Art.