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Light on Fire: The Art and Life of Sam Francis

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The first in-depth biography of Sam Francis, the legendary American abstract painter who broke all the rules in his personal and artistic life.

Light on Fire is the first comprehensive biography of Sam Francis, one of the most important American abstract artists of the twentieth century. Based on Gabrielle Selz’s unprecedented access to Francis’s files, as well as private correspondence and hundreds of interviews, this book traces the extraordinary and ultimately tragic journey of a complex and charismatic artist who first learned to paint as a former air-corps pilot encased for three years in a full-body cast. While still a young man, Francis saw his color-saturated paintings fetch the highest prices of any living artist. His restless desire resulted in five marriages and homes on three continents; his entrepreneurial spirit led to founding a museum, a publishing company, a reforestation program and several nonprofits. Light on Fire captures the art, life, personality, and talent of a man whom the art historian and museum director William C. Agee described as a rare artist participating in the “visionary reconstruction of art history,” defying creative boundaries among the likes of Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Willem de Kooning. With settings from World War II San Francisco to postwar Paris, New York, Tokyo, and Los Angeles, Selz crafts an intimate portrait of a man who sought to resolve in art the contradictions he couldn’t resolve in life.

392 pages, Hardcover

Published October 19, 2021

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About the author

Gabrielle Selz

2 books5 followers
Gabrielle Selz is the award-winning author of Light on Fire: The Art and Life of Sam Francis. Her debut book, Unstill Life: A Daughter’s Memoir of Art and Love in the Age of Abstraction, received the best memoir of the year award from the American Society of Journalists and Authors. It was listed as the best book of 2014 by the San Francisco Chronicle.

Gabrielle has contributed to The New Yorker, The New York Times, More Magazine, The Rumpus, Los Angeles Times. Her fiction has appeared in Fiction Magazine, Her art criticism in Art Papers, Hyperallergic, and Newsday. She is a recipient of the New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in Nonfiction and is a Moth Story Slam Winner.

She earned her BA in Art History from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and her MA in Writing from City College in New York. She has held the position of Distinguished Visiting Professor of Creative Writing at Saint Mary’s College of California.

Gabrielle is a member of the San-Francisco-based writing group North 24th Writers, whose members have published more than two dozen nonfiction books. She has an adult son and lives in Oakland, California.

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Displaying 1 - 3 of 3 reviews
Profile Image for Erica-Lynn.
Author 2 books13 followers
October 20, 2021
There are art books, books about art, and then there are books about life which happen to be rooted in the art world. “Light on Fire: The Art and Life of Sam Francis” is one of those rare books. Highly narrative, with intimate details and a page-turner quality, “Light on Fire” chronicles the life and art of the complicated, celebrated but perhaps not as well-known to some of us on the East Coast, Sam Francis. Written by the author of “Unstill Life” (an amazing memoir about growing up in the art world), Gabrielle Selz accessed a wealth of untapped material to reveal secrets behind the central myth Francis created about himself as an artist. A polymath and a personally polarizing figure, Francis’ trajectory was profoundly affected by pain and suffering, and Selz relays this with empathy and honesty. Sam Francis lived a vivid, excessive life from another era. He was married five times, owned homes and studios on three continents, seeded the vocabulary of Abstract Expression around the world, and was instrumental in putting Los Angeles on the map as a vital art center. His earning power set the template for today’s global, blockbuster artists. Selz deftly captures Francis’s extraordinary, unstoppable nature in this informative and highly entertaining biography.
Profile Image for Paul Wilner.
618 reviews37 followers
November 4, 2021
"Sam was a virtuoso from the moment he started to paint - it was like turning on a faucet.''
Gabrielle Selz's biography of a California artist "Light on Fire - The Art and Life of Sam Francis,'' is a must-read.

My interview/review with Selz, for the Nob Hill Gazette, is linked below:


November 5, 2021
Selz is a gorgeous writer --her lyrical, poetic voice is the perfect vehicle for describing Sam Francis's sumptious paintings. She has a way of making the art accessible. But as someone who doesn't closely follow the art world, what hooked me this book was Sam Francis's larger-than-life life. So much tragedy, drama, five marriages, multiple near-death experiences. Selz brings sharp insights and a novelist's gift for story-telling in relating this extraordinary life.
Displaying 1 - 3 of 3 reviews

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