In South, Southeast, and East Asian art and religion, a mandala is an abstract design symbolic of the universe. Sam Francis's mandala consists of four concentric square bands. The bands are mottled with spontaneous washes of radiant colors, while the entire composition, which includes the squared shape of the paper, is streaked with dripped and flung paint. If it is a true mandala, how does the artist's pattern represent the cosmos? Does it offer a commentary on its nature?
The four bands suggest the four legendary corners of the world, both earthly and celestial. The geometric composition of the design, signifying order, is offset by random splashes of color that are uncalculated. Francis captures in his abstract style—suited to the conceptual nature of mandala diagrams—both the structures and spontaneous rhythms of nature. The artist's prominent use of yellows and reds unifies this symbolic and visual dualism, which in its brilliance suffuses all elements of Francis's mandala with light.
Sam Francis, Untitled Mandala, 1975, acrylic, 36 1/2 x 37 inches. Collection of Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Frederic F. Renfert. 75.12.2 © 2005 Samuel L. Francis Foundation, California/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
Sam Francis in his Venice, California studio, 1989. Photograph by Nico Delaive. Courtesy The Samuel L. Francis Foundation (AKA Sam Francis Foundation), CA 2005.