by Debra Burchett-Lere and Aneta Zabala. Getty Publications, February 2019. 140 p. ill. ISBN 9781606065839 (pbk.), $40.00.

Reviewed November 2019
Lori Salmon, Head, Institute of Fine Arts Library/Division of Libraries, New York University, lori.salmon@nyu.edu

BurchettLereCalifornia-born abstract expressionist Sam Francis (1923–1994) made his debut in the Twelve Americans exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1956. At the time, this budding artist could have gone unnoticed amongst his heavy hitter counterparts, but his extensive vibrantly colored canvases have intrigued many for decades to come.

Sam Francis: The Artist’s Materials, a vivid and engaging book, is testament to the specialized material and process-based research collaboratively undertaken by the Getty Conservation Institute and the Sam Francis Foundation. Written by Debra Burchett-Lere, curator and executive director of the Sam Francis Foundation, with Aneta Zabala, conservator for the Sam Francis Foundation, the book looks closely at thirty-seven paintings from the late 1940s to 1990s. Various parts of the works are analyzed, and the works are described in terms of their syntactic roles by scholars and conservators alike.

This book comprises five chapters in which the authors go into great care and thoroughness to discuss not only the artist’s physical activities but also his influences, ideas, materials, tools, and skills. Most of this book concerns itself with a biographical sketch of Francis’s life, conveying the essence and main milestones of his artwork and career. At the same time, the book considers how Francis dove into his given media with untested philosophical ideas and techniques, focusing on how the artist developed his palette and his unconventional approach.

Richly illustrated with close-ups of paintings in both recto and verso, the volume entices the reader. Vibrant details of paint samples show tactile textures and intense colors, as they document the artist’s innovative and experimental studio techniques. Technical appendices revealing extensive information about Francis’ work will pique the reader’s interest. These fruitful investigations explore pigment samples, binders, and traditional materials with contemporary instruments and procedures as a basis for understanding their potential uses.

A wonderful supplement to this book can be found in Sam Francis: Catalogue Raisonné of Canvas and Panel Paintings, 1946–1994, also edited by Debra Burchett-Lere (University of California Press, 2011). The catalogue raisonné features a hardcover book accompanied by two interactive DVDs with rare footage of the artist in his studio, his writings, and descriptions of his studios and techniques, as well as additional content online. Although some librarians may be wary due to preservation concerns surrounding its various formats, the catalogue and this new publication, with its focus on materials and techniques, together provide valuable information for any person’s in-depth research.