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Light on Fire: The Art and Life of Sam Francis

Light on Fire: The Art and Life of Sam Francis

by Gabrielle Selz

Hardcover(First Edition)

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"I think of Sam as a modern-day Nijinsky with a big loaded brush. He would get on to a canvas and really clean house. 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

"Gabrielle Selz’s Light on Fire is a deeply researched and engaging biography of a twentieth-century artist whose luminous paintings once commanded the highest prices in the world. With a personal life (he had five wives) as dramatic as the oversized abstract images he exhibited around the globe, Sam Francis 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 was an important and influential painter, which is enough, but his 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, best-selling author of The House of Mondavi, Lost Kingdom, and The White Devil's Daughters

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520310711
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 10/19/2021
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 392
Sales rank: 421,805
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

Gabrielle Selz is the award-winning author of Unstill Life: A Daughter’s Memoir of Art and Love in the Age of Abstraction. Her articles have appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times.

Table of Contents


Part I 1923–1950
Color is light on fire
1. Traumatic Beginnings
2. First Love, First Muse
3. An Unexpected Battle
4. The Keys to the Kingdom
5. A First Coalescence

Part II 1950–1956
Paris was the psychic mother of me
6. A Tiny Room at the Hôtel de Seine
7. Ambition and Lies
8. I Paint Time
9. A Homecoming of Joy and Anguish

Part III 1956–1962
Go as far as you can as fast as you can
10. Wanderlust
11. Feverish Intensity 
12. An Internationalist in New York 
13. I Am a Seismograph 
14. A Dance with Mr. Death

Part IV 1962–1985
I am your change-bearer, I am your instrument of expansion
15. Resurrection 
16. I Love My Desires 
17. The Space at the Center Is Reserved for You
18. The Artist Is His Work and No Longer Human
19. My Consciousness Is an Image
20. Art Is the Heart of the Matter
21. A New Era for Los Angeles
22. My Virtue Is to Be Myself

Part V 1986–1994
I am steering by the torch of chaos and doubt
23. Don't Be Sorry for Nothing 
24. Death Is a Curve in Harmony with Life

Notes on Sources
Illustration Credits

Customer Reviews