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Sam Francis

Blue Balls VIII

1961–62

Blue Balls VIII is from a series of paintings that Sam Francis made between 1960 and 1963. Having already explored the color blue in a number of series, he extended these experiments while convalescing from a reoccurring bout of renal tuberculosis that forced him to undergo lengthy hospitalization. The round blue shapes of Blue Balls VIII and other paintings in the series perhaps embody the sheer pain of his experience, the dysfunction of his kidneys, or the discoloration and enlargement of his testicles, all side effects he suffered because of the illness. Though the images may refer to his condition, they continue the biomorphic shapes that had long predominated in his art. Also distinguishing these works is the manner in which the pictorial activity is consistently pulled back to the edges, leaving much of the surface of the canvas open.

Sam Francis (b. 1923, San Mateo, California; d. 1994, Santa Monica, California)
Blue Balls VIII, 1961–62
Oil on canvas
73 x 98 in.
The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
Bequest of Marcia Simon Weisman

I cannot imagine starting a painting with an idea. I have to start with a thing, a thing to touch—the canvas, the paint. Years ago I would start a painting with a shadow. The sun would shine on it and I would start with the accident of the shadow. —Sam Francis