The Space of Effusion

Sam Francis in Japan

Between abstraction and tradition: Sam Francis’s fruitful encounters with Japanese culture



Richard Speer. Edited and with a foreword by Debra Burchett-Lee

1st edition

, 2020

Text in English


224 pages, 140 color and 50 b/w illustrations

24 x 30 cm

ISBN 978-3-85881-861-4

In cooperation with Sam Francis Foundation in Pasadena, CA


One of the world’s preeminent Abstract Expressionists, California-born painter Sam Francis (1923-1994) first traveled to Japan in 1957, quickly established studios and residences there, and became active in a circle of avant-garde artists, writers, filmmakers, architects, and composers, including members of the nascent Gutai and Mono-ha movements. This book chronicles those connections, as well as his complex and evolving relationship with East Asian aesthetics from the 1950s through the 1990s.

From the very first exhibitions Francis had in Tokyo, critics linked his evocative use of negative space with the Japanese concept of ma, a symbolically rich interval between objects or ideas.  This shared pictorial and philosophical syntax laid the foundation for a feedback loop of mutual influence that spurred frequent collaborations between the artist and his Japanese contemporaries, extending into the realms of printmaking, ceramics, music, poetry, publishing, and performance.

Written by art critic and curator Richard Speer, with a foreword by Debra Burchett-Lere, executive director and president of the Sam Francis Foundation, this is the first full-length monograph to explore an important but sometimes overlooked milieu in Post-World War II art—a dialogue between Eastern and Western sensibilities that prefigured our current era of global interconnectedness and cross-cultural exchange. Lavishly illustrated with color plates and archival images, it is an adjunct publication for the related exhibition Sam Francis and Japan:  Emptiness Overflowing Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2021), co-curated by Speer.


Richard Speer is a critic, author, and curator based in Portland, OR. He is co-curator of the landmark exhibition Sam Francis and Japan: Emptiness Overflowing at LACMA.


Debra Burchett-Lee is executive director and president of the Sam Francis Foundation.

Autoren & Herausgeber

«Needless to say that this richly illustrated book is a must for all Sam Francis fans, not just in East and West.» Louis Gerber, Cosmopolis


«This rich, subtle, and complex book examines the mutually fulfilling relationship between Sam Francis and Japan and concludes that ‹a culture in which the ego can float and fade away ... was one uniquely suited to a painter whose thoughts hov­ered halfway between earth and eternity.» Arts & Antiques


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Sam Francis, Easter, 1977. Acrylic on canvas, 465.46 x 374.65 cm (183 ¼ x 147 ½ in.), created in Los Angeles (Santa Monica). Private collection, Los Angeles. © Photo: Douglas M. Parker Studio, Los Angeles.

Portrait of Sam Francis at Galerie Rive Droite, Paris, 1955. © Photo: Pierre Boulat / Ass. Pierre & Al/redux.

Atsuko Tanaka, Electric Dress, 1956 (reconstructed 1986). Enamel paint on incandescent light bulbs, electric cords, and control console, 165 x 80 x 80 cm (64 15/16 x 31 ½ x 31 ½ in.). Takamatsu Art Museum Collection, Kagawa, Japan. Artwork © Akira Kanayama and Atsuko Tanaka Association, Japan.

Sam Francis, Towards Disappearance III, 1957–58. Oil on canvas, 288.93 x 355.6 cm (113 ¾ x 140 in.), created in Paris. Edward Tyler Nahem Fine Art, LLC, New York. © Photo: Douglas M. Parker Studio, Los Angeles.

Matsumi (“Mike”) Kanemitsu, Last Page, 12 a.m., 1973–74. Sumi ink on paper, 99.7 x 6.85 cm (39 ¼ x 27 ½ in.). Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Japanese Art, Gift of William Kiskadden (AC1995.32.1). © Matsumi Kanemitsu Estate. © Photo: Museum Associates/LACMA.

Sam Francis, Untitled, 1988. Etching, edition of 22, 142.24 x 56.52 cm (56 x 22 ¼ in.), printed by the Litho Shop, Inc., Santa Monica. © Photo: Douglas M. Parker Studio, Los Angeles.

Inshō Dōmoto, Cherry Blossoms in Rain at Arashiyama, 1928. Color woodblock print, 24.4 x 35.5. cm (9 ⅝ x 14 in.). Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Japanese Art, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Felix Juda (M.73.37.504). © Artwork: Inshō Dōmoto. © Photo: Museum Associates/LACMA.

Francis working on ceramics in Japan, ca. mid-1960s. © Photos: Akio Nonaka. Courtesy Geijutsu Shincho Editorial Department, Tokyo.

Jirō Yoshihara, White Circle on Black Background, 1969. Silkscreen, edition of 100, 63.5 x 51.43 cm (31 1/8 x 26 ¼ in.). Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Gift of Edwin M. and Ellen B. Reingold (M.2005.100.9). Artwork © Jirō Yoshihara. © Photo: Museum Associates/LACMA.

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