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David Lasry, Sam Francis, Ann McLaughlin and the press mechanic making large scale mono prints in Milpitas, CA 1983. Photo: © 1983 Richard Tullis

Francis, Sam

Project type





International Institute of Experimental Printmaking, Experimental Printmaking, Garner Tullis Workshop, Tullis Workshop, Garner Tullis New York

Sam Francis
(June 25, 1923 – November 4, 1994)
Innovation and experimentation typify the works created here. Oil, enamel, water-based paints and powdered pigments intertwine with multiple plates to produce these one-off images.

Garner and Sam had a very special relationship which transcended the rules of printmaking. In some way I think Sam wanted Garner all to himself, he didn't like sharing and if Sam could have he would have made Garner his full time printer, as it was, there were times, when we were pretty much on call for Sam's creative muses. When I was home from school Garner would drag me to the studio because Sam wanted to work, nights and weekend were preferred times because the shop was quiet, no distraction, all our attention focused on Sam and his needs, no wives or workers, I was ok because I was the kid. I'd wait quietly with my camera ready in between my chore of keeping plates and brushes clean. Garner and Sam doing their magic dance together, making art. Monotype was a perfect medium for their collaborations, exploring how to push the limits of materials, combining artist oil color, enamel, water based color, touché inks and dry powdered pigments together in one printing.

One of the breakthroughs Garner and Sam made was using hydraulic platen presses to fuse the various mediums together using hundreds of tons of pressure to push the pigments into the fibers of the paper. Another was the proprietary paper we were making. Using water leaf paper, cotton pulp cast into sheets up to a half inch thick, with their super absorbency allowed for all these mediums to be used together. The vertical action of the platen press means the pressure is applied all at one time, virtually stamping the image and paper as apposed to rolling over the sheet on a conventional press.

It took those two many years of collaborations to get the perfect match of press and paper, both Sam and Garner were avid press and paper collectors. The various studios had a museums worth of printing presses: etching, offset, hand press, type presses, etc... all were used to various degrees of success but never seemed large enough to satisfy their needs to work larger. Sam pushed my father to come up with solutions and Garner delivered. Sam and Garner were competitive in their drive to make these big monotypes work, culminating in the big press on the cover of Garner Tullis the Art of Collaboration. 

Why did Garner do it? I suppose to be his best and bring out the best in his artists. The hydraulic presses need all that pressure to make the pigments part of the paper, cellulose is tough stuff. Most paper has a sizing to help bind the fibers together, ours was just pure cotton fiber. Most printers wet their paper to help the ink marry to the paper, our paper would fall apart if wetted much but under several hundred tons of pressure the pigments were forced into the fiber not just left to sit on top. They liked to say these prints were in, on and of the paper. Although we made paper especially suited for use on hydraulic presses, the appetite for experimentation didn't stop with press building and buying. Sam’s love affair with Japanese papers was infectious and we commissioned a Japanese paper mill to produce sheets larger than they had before, very expensive sheets of paper. Garner also bought three quarters of a mile of custom made 60" wide rag paper to use on the big press, partly I suppose because we couldn't produce enough of our own paper to satisfy the appetites of our artists. It was an incredible time to be in the art business and these guys were breaking rules and pushing boundaries of acceptable printmaking behaviors. I'm sure that they are not given enough credit for their contributions to the medium of mono printing.

I'm not sure how much heat if any is produced by the action of printing hydraulically, I printed and ran all of Garner’s Hydraulic presses during more than thirty years and never pulled a hot piece of paper off the press. As for poisonous fumes: paint thinner, mineral spirits, lacquer thinner, acetone and certain pigments are all toxic substances, some worse than others. The dry powdered pigments are especially bad and there were few safety precautions taken early on. I remember seeing blue puffs of ultramarine pigment coming out of the press covering us in toxic dust, we didn't think to wear protective gloves or masks at first. Old school I guess, those hard living abstract expressionist painters values perhaps. I suspect it made both of them ill at times. I know my printing practice changed as I learned of the hazards and I tried to make my studio a safer environment for both artists and printer.

I began my photography and printmaking careers helping Sam and Garner during projects at Experimental Printmaking, Garner Tullis Workshop and later Atelier Richard Tullis. I’m grateful for the experience shared in my father’s studios.
A little about my relationship with Sam. He was often a guest in our house during printing project and liked my room best, therefore if I were home from school he got my room and I got the single bed the "guest room".

I was once at one of Sam's parties in Santa Monica years later and another guest asked me how I knew Sam and where had I gone to school; before I could answer, Sam put his arm around my shoulder and smiling he said, "Richard went through the school of hard knocks, I gave him most of them”. Pretty well sums it up. They were hard task masters, but made great prints together.

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