Deriving inspiration from Pollock and Rothko in ’50s Paris, Sam Francis stood at the forefront of American abstract art, creating hypnotic, amorphous works that captivated collectors. He was bestowed with the sort of fame and fortune that affords unfettered creative freedom, all the while despising explanations of his imagery. “You can’t read a painting!” chirps Francis’s son in Jeffrey Perkins’s portrait of the brush wielder, and you can see euphoria wash over the artist: The young one has found the words he never could.
For 40 years, Jeffrey Perkins shot and collected footage of his friend in a bid to better understand him. He filmed Francis dribbling paint on his mammoth canvas Berlin Red circa ’68 and participating in a rare, candid poolside chat in 1973. While interviews with friends delineate the contours of Francis’s life—the influential period in Japan, his four marriages, various battles with cancer and tuberculosis—the filmmaker’s curiosity transcends chronology. Perkins asks us to bask silently in the majesty of an artist in his element; in one unforgettable shot, Francis stands atop a newly finished canvas, utterly transfixed. It’s a stirring snapshot of that strange space where the act of creating can be a religious experience. —S. James Snyder
Opens Fri; Anthology. Find showtimes