Light on Fire

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The Art and Life of Sam Francis

A revelatory and groundbreaking biography of Sam Francis, one of the 20th century’s most celebrated artists, and the American painter who brought the vocabulary of abstract expressionism to Paris.

Drawing on exclusive interviews and private correspondence, Gabrielle Selz traces the extraordinary life of this complex and charismatic artist who first learned to paint as a former air-corps pilot encased for three years in a full-body cast. While still a young man, Francis saw his color-saturated paintings fetch the highest prices of any living artist. His restless desire resulted in five marriages and homes on three continents. His entrepreneurial spirit led to founding a museum, a publishing company, a reforestation program and several non-profits. With settings from World War II San Francisco to post-war Paris, New York, Tokyo and Los Angeles, Selz writes an intimate portrait of a man who sought to resolve in art the contradictions he couldn’t resolve in life.

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“I think of Sam as a modern-day Nijinsky with a big loaded brush. He would get onto a canvas and really clean house. Gabrielle Selz’s book really captures his spirit.”
—Ed Ruscha, artist

“Drawing on her wide-ranging research, insightful observations, and lucid prose, Selz illuminates the feverish life of a survivor, art-world misfit, and master of color and light. Her book offers new insights into the origins of Sam Francis’s dazzling art. It’s a page-turner and a revelation.”
—Patricia Albers, author of Joan Mitchell, Lady Painter: A Life

“A deeply researched and engaging biography of a twentieth-century artist who redefined what it meant to be an artist in the post–World War II era. Selz’s page-turning book should bring long-overdue attention to a man with enormous talent, appetites, and zest for life.”
—Frances Dinkelspiel, author of Tangled Vines: Greed, Murder, Obsession, and an Arsonist in the Vineyards of California

“Sam Francis’s influence on art and the art world went far beyond his canvases. This richly written book understands that and unfolds like an ideas-driven novel that brings verve and authority to its examination of Francis’s art and life.”
—Tyler Green, author of Carleton Watkins: Making the West American

“A balanced, fascinating, and at times suspenseful account of a complicated man. Discreet and thoughtful, the author has nonetheless pulled back the curtain on this lion of the twentieth century. I couldn’t put it down.”
—Anastasia Aukeman, author of Welcome to Painterland: Bruce Conner and the Rat Bastard Protective Association

“A fascinating, meticulously researched account of an elusive and enthralling artist. A sheer delight to read.”
—Julia Flynn Siler, bestselling author of The House of Mondavi, Lost Kingdom, and The White Devil’s Daughters

Published by: University of California Press
Release Date: October 19, 2021
Pages: 368
ISBN13: 978-0520310711