March 25, 2008
With the Color as Field exhibition in full swing, I went back to take another look, and found myself returning to Sam Francis's painting, Blue Balls from 1960. It is a mostly empty canvas but for the nine spherical shapes that border two sides of the work. The painting has a certain snap to it. It shares a compositional device found in many of D.C.-native Morris Louis's works; he often pushes the action to the edges of the canvas. In fact, when looking at other paintings in the exhibition, the border of the painting is often where much of the action resides.
What are these blue shapes? Perhaps it was the walk in the park I took the other day with my dogs that gave me insight: there, the first blue crocuses and white snowdrops were starting to push up through the earth. The painting has that sensibility of something being born, of the beauty of the natural world if you open yourself to the experience of seeing.
Francis was a Californian by birth whose aesthetic was formed there, as well as in Paris and Japan, where the study of Zen Buddhism began to influence his work. One can see the sense of "breathing in and breathing out" in the contrast between empty and full spaces in the work. The painting gives you a gentle shove toward Zen.
Blue Balls has the honor of being one of the first paintings you see when you walk through Color as Field. That also means you get to revisit it on your way out, and we hope, take a little of it with you as you leave the exhibition, the gallery, and the museum, and reenter the city's bustling streets.
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