Catalogue Guide

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  Francis working in Bern studio, Switzerland, ca.1973. Photo © Kurt Blum.

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The default view displays artwork thumbnails in the order of their catalogue raisonné number, with the canvas and panel paintings preceding the unique works on paper. The listings can also be sorted by Francis Archive number, date, title, height, or width. Select the Filter option to view works by medium, year, or the Whereabouts unknown category. (Research is ongoing to determine the location of works listed as “Whereabouts unknown.”) To view the full artwork entry from the default view, click on either the thumbnail image or the title. In all other listings, the image links to an expanded view of the artwork image and the title will link to the entry.

In addition to allowing browsing by catalogue entry, the online SFCR offers several alternative groupings of the listings. Artworks can be sorted by Public Collections, Exhibitions, or Literature. Explanations of each of those possibilities can be found on the initial page of that option.  

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The Quick Search box in the upper right is for searching a single section only. The box can be toggled to search through other sections on the site. For more complex searches, however, use the Advanced Search link. 

Quick search Catalogue Entries by catalogue number, title, year, or Francis Archive number.

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An in-depth searching option is available under the heading Advanced Search. Each selected criteria hones the search further. To clear search select the “click here to remove all searches” option in yellow bar above. 

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Catalogue Entries

Viewing Options

There are two viewing options to this publication: the Thumbnail SFCR Version (Public Educational Access) and the Expanded SFCR Version (Subscription-based Educational Access). For the initial launch, users will have full access to the Expanded Version until July 1, 2018, after which it will be by subscription only. 

For each entry, throughout the thumbnail tombstone information or the expanded version, if a question mark is listed within brackets [?] this designates indeterminate, unknown, or unverified data at the time of publication. It can accompany any text, including date, title, medium, dimensions, inscriptions, or provenance history.

The Thumbnail SFCR entry of each artwork is organized in the following order:

  • Recto Photograph of Artwork
  • SFF SFCR Number (and Francis Archive SF Number)
  • Title (Alternate Title if applicable)
  • Date

The Expanded SFCR entry includes the information listed above as well as:

  • Medium and Support
  • Dimensions
  • Inscriptions
  • Additional Notations
  • Creation Location
  • Collection
  • Provenance 
  • Exhibitions
  • Literature References
  • Notes
  • Supplemental Images (including signatures and views of versos)
  • Archival Material (including studio and exhibition images, etc.)

Images

 
SFF4.54  

All artworks are reproduced in color unless the only available image is a black-and-white photograph (as may be the case for destroyed or lost works). Although every effort was made to obtain high-quality color reproductions, in some instances the only available image was a black-and-white photograph or a poor-quality color image (often a studio Polaroid taken at the time of documentation), so this is the sole portrayal of the entry. The ability to depict color accurately, particularly with some of the older original transparencies or Polaroids, has proven difficult because of photographic variations caused by aging, type of film used, lighting, and processing.

We have taken the time to illustrate irregular borders, especially for the edges of the paper or when the thick paint has spread outside the edges. If the best possible reproduction of the work includes a frame, we have included the frame in the overall image as the primary illustration. This provides a context as well as source information should there be a shadow cast by the frame onto the surface of the work. There are also a number of artworks documented without a visual, as well as others documented only with abridged views

With each entry, a reproduction of the work in the orientation most often documented by the artist or indicated as referenced by the signature is included. Partial close-ups of the work’s surface allow some exploration of Francis’s painting or drawing techniques, application of paint, and brushstrokes.

The source images were resized, color-corrected, and formatted for reproduction in Photoshop. All attempts have been made to reproduce the colors as accurately as possible, using photographic color bars (set at native white point), if available, for the specific illustrations to balance the reproduction quality. However, we cannot guarantee the color accuracy on individual computer monitors, as there are too many calibration variables affecting the colors.

In addition to the source images, we have included close-ups of inscriptions (when available), as well as alternate orientation views (if applicable) of the specific artwork. Additional archival material may include photographs taken in the artist’s studio (sometimes showing the work in progress), as well as exhibition and other installation views.

Artworks with only poor reproductions available will not be able to enlarge past the thumbnail views given.

SFF Catalogue Raisonné Numbering System

The SFF catalogue entries are generally numbered and arranged in the sequence that the works were likely to have been executed, but it is impossible to establish a strict linear timetable since Francis did not regularly record his artworks as they were realized. Moreover, as evidenced in his oeuvre over the decades, he did not always proceed in a clear stylistic order. He often went back to an earlier series and created new works in this series at a later date, making it difficult to determine the chronological order. The artist’s extensive travels and multiple studio locations, combined with the fact that some works were destroyed or are still unidentified, further complicate matters. In addition, a number of works—based on similar color, composition, and style within a definitive period of time—have commonly been referred to as series over the years and have been placed together to illustrate the loosely defined groups. While addressing a chronological order when possible, the organization of this catalogue is not stringent and allows for flexibility, primarily in response to the artist’s aesthetics. All artworks may not be documented as some are currently missing, unidentified, or require additional data before they can be assigned a SFF number. There is also a chance that some of the works included could exist with a different title. As artworks are discovered or confirmed, new SFF numbers will be assigned accordingly.

There are two distinct numbering systems delineating the unique works on paper from the canvas and panel paintings. The paper works from the 1940s (1945–49) are given the designation SFF4 to indicate that decade and are numbered SFF4.1, SFF4.2, SFF4.3, SFF4.4, etc. Similarly, unique works on paper from the 1950s are numbered SFF5.1, SFF5.2, SFF5.3, etc.; from the 1960s, SFF6.1, SFF6.2, SFF6.3, etc.; from the 1970s, SFF7.1, SFF7.2, SFF.3, etc.; from the 1980s, SFF8.1, SFF8.2, etc.; and from the 1990s, SFF9.1, SFF9.2, etc.

The canvas and panel works are designated from the 1940s to the 1990s with a numbering system that does not include a decade source beginning with: SFF.1, SFF.2, SFF.3, etc.

Francis Archive Numbers (SF Numbers)

In addition to the SFF catalogue raisonné number (which is now the primary identification number), our documentation includes the corresponding “Francis Archive,” or “SF,” number that was previously assigned to the doc card, if applicable. The SF numbers are currently viewed as interim identification numbers, temporarily assigned to artworks attributed to Sam Francis. As already described, these identification numbers were assigned by the artist’s assistants at the Litho Shop and usually indicate that the artwork was previously documented in the artist’s archives and/or a definitive provenance link was confirmed. Over the years, auction houses, collectors, galleries, and museums have utilized the SF numbering system as a way of identifying and documenting the works. The letters “SF” designate the classification “Sam Francis Work on Paper” and are followed by the year of completion and an archive number for that year. For example, SF80-10 signifies a work by Sam Francis completed in 1980 and numbered 10 in the sequence for that year. The sequence, however, does not necessarily reflect the actual chronology of the work's creation within the particular year; instead, it reflects the order in which the works were recorded by Francis’s staff. Therefore, a work labeled SF80-10 may actually have been executed after SF80-50. In addition, some works have two or more SF numbers, usually assigned by different assistants, who may have documented the work sometime (perhaps years) after its completion, and these are listed in numerical order. Artworks on canvas or panels were designated as SFP (“P” for painting).

Titles

 
  Francis's handwritten titles from notebook.

Sam Francis was erratic in providing titles for his artworks, listing the majority as Untitled. At times, however, he did provide very specific titles; he also sometimes gave multiple titles or retitled a work years later or from one exhibition to another. In the SFCR entries Untitled is used when indicated by the artist directly or in subsequent documentation by the artist’s estate. If no title is known or confirmed, we have listed it as a bracketed question mark. If an artwork has been referred to with a specific title, but this is not directly from the artist’s records, it appears unitalicized within parentheses, such as (Untitled) (Red Jewel).

It was not uncommon for Francis (or one of his dealers) to adopt affectionate working titles over a period of time or to use descriptive referents such as White, Green, Pink. In some instances, Francis used the words Study or Sketch to identify works created in the preparatory periods leading up to larger murals or commissions. Adding to the disparity in titles is the fact that during the organization of some of Francis’s early solo exhibitions, such as those at the Galerie Rive Droite, Martha Jackson Gallery, Kunsthalle Bern, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Francis would submit new checklists, retitling certain works.

Titles are listed in English, even for works that later in his career were often referenced in foreign languages such as French, German, or Japanese in catalogues and other publications, unless Francis specifically designated the title to remain in the foreign language. Titles misspelled in previous publications have been corrected (unless the artist originally misspelled them). If the artist used abbreviations, numbers, symbols, or the like, these have been noted. Works that are part of a series or a grouping include a reference to a numbered sequence. Two basic designations have been used to follow the artist’s numbering system: the abbreviation No. for number and a Roman numeral designation (I). If, however, the artist designated the # symbol, we have included this in the title.

Alternate Titles

When a work has been exhibited or listed under a title other than the primary one—as may be gleaned from exhibition catalogues and other publications—this alternate title is listed. If, however, the alternate designation is only a slight variation in treatment of the main title (such as a # sign rather than the abbreviation No.), this is indicated in the Notes section.

Dates

As already discussed, confirming specific dates for works has been difficult, complicated by the artist’s history and his inconsistent documentary methods. The date listed for an entry indicates the year (or approximate year) or span of years in which a work was executed. Doc cards, past inventory records, exhibition checklists, sales records, photographs, and images of the artist working in his studios, as well as inscriptions by Francis, have provided guidelines for the attribution or substantiation of the dates. In some cases, new dates have been assigned, and previously mistaken dates have been corrected to indicate the actual year of completion. The rationale for the new date is usually explained in the Notes section.

Although Francis often recalled when he created a work and remembered many of the details in each work, he did not systematically record or number his works in a journal as the works were completed. As a result, there are numerous instances where the artist may have mistakenly attributed dates to works created in different years. Sometimes he dated a work as an afterthought, noted many years after the initial execution, or he might date and sign a work when it was sold, consigned to an exhibition, or included as an illustration in a publication. Studio assistants have publicly commented that he sometimes mixed up the dates of his works. For example, some of the very first artworks attributed to the artist, done during his hospitalization, were originally designated as being from 1944, but it has been determined that Francis only began working on watercolors and drawings in March 1945 and did not actually begin work on board or canvas until 1946, so the archives have been updated to reflect this. As a result of the mistaken early timeline, many other works from 1946 to 1950 have appeared with incorrect dates in prominent biographies, chronologies, exhibition catalogues, and monographs. Through the process of elimination, combined with a connoisseur’s evaluation of his painterly progression, we have attempted to verify these works’ dates and have corrected them to coincide with the revised chronology, as confirmed by his correspondence, exhibition records, hospitalization records, newspaper articles, and photographs.

 
SFF4.2 date detail  

Investigative research was needed to correct instances when Francis confused dates by signing and dating a painting only when he sold it or gave it to someone. He might, for example, sign a work with a notation “To Jane, with love Sam, 1965” for a work that was executed in 1960. Fortunately, most of these mistakes were easily discernible, as the style of a work from 1960 usually did not coincide with that of a work from 1965.

Sometimes, however, it was difficult to confirm a date, as Francis at times revisited imagery from different periods of his career, creating what he considered homage works as a way of deepening his exploration of color, content, and form. Moreover, it was not uncommon for Francis to move back and forth between compositions during a particular period. For example, in 1980 Francis completed a number of blue ball-like works (echoing the early 1960s), as well as grid-like works, crosses, and mandala images, but concentrated on all-over colorful compositions. Francis could spend anywhere from minutes, hours, or a day to a period of years creating a work, as an early conception might come to completion only years later.

Given all the possibilities for dating variations, we have come up with the following four ways (or combinations thereof) to designate the date. Any dating variants or explanations pertaining to corrections of previously published data are included in the Notes section for the entry.

1. The completion date, as indicated by either the artist’s hand (when noted) or verified documentation, is listed as a specific year (e.g., 1950) under the title.

2. A date preceded by “ca.” (e.g., ca. 1950) indicates that the work was probably completed in or around the year(s) listed.

3. Two dates separated by a short dash indicate that the work was conceived with continuous consideration over the successive years given by the dates (e.g., 1956–58). Many of these works were started in the fall or winter of one year and completed in the spring of the next year.

4. A combination date is designated with a slash between two dates to indicate that the work was not continuous but was probably executed during one or both of the years designated, revisited, or in the “style of” (e.g., 1950/53 or 1962/82). These dual dates may indicate works where the artist started the work and then returned to it later, reworking areas and signing it at the final completion date, or completing a work at a later time, but signing it with an earlier date. This designation is also used when Francis completed a work, signed and dated it at the time, but subsequently revisited it at a later date, adding more paint. There are a few works where he would inscribe both of these dates on the verso, such as “1954 to 1988/finished 1988” or “1957/1988 overpainted.”

Medium and Support

The description of the medium and support is based on verified documentation, physical inspection, or data supplied by the current owners. For the works on paper, the type and manufacturers of papers Francis employed have not been specifically notated as Francis used a wide variety of sheet and block papers (including handmade ones) as well as from various notebooks from Europe, Japan, and the United States from many different sources.The majority of canvas and panel paintings are on cotton duck, while most of the earlier paintings on linen. The designation of oil on canvas or acrylic on canvas is used interchangeably for linen and cotton duck. In terms of the surface, the artist usually treated the entire surface with multiple layers of gesso, often with specific tints. Notations regarding stretcher bar conditions, possible relining of the canvas, or other conservation issues pertaining to the works are not usually indicated, although in some instances this information is included in the Notes section. 

 
  Detail of SFF.5

The basic terminology for the materials used—acrylic, charcoal, gouache, ink, oil, pencil, watercolor, etc.—is notated without naming the specific manufacturer of the pigment or colors. Early in his career, Francis used a variety of traditional, commercially available oil-based tube paints, which he often combined with such media as egg tempera, dry pigments, Damar resin, and binding agents. During the 1960s through the early 1980s he relied on specially designed paints mixed for his specific needs. Beginning in the mid-1960s, Francis’s studio assistants, most notably Daniel Cytron, would mix specially formulated dispersions to create a unique palette of vibrant and intense colors. Because of the variations in the paints used over the years and the preparation methods employed, the descriptive categories have been reduced to simplified terms: acrylic, casein, egg tempera, mixed media, gouache, watercolor and oil. Francis also created collaged works that are included here.

The unique compositions on paper (not monotypes) from the 1940s include works on paperboard, cardboard, and the like, as well as works on gessoed paper mounted onto other surfaces. Works on paper (also referred to as paintings and drawings) included here are directly applied to a surface that usually requires a frame or glass/Plexiglas to be displayed

A detailed study focused on Francis's paints and materials is in press, scheduled to be published in the winter of 2018/2019. Authored by Debra Burchett-Lere and Aneta Zebala this publication is part of the “Artists Materials” series of the Getty Conservation Institute, Los Angeles. 

Dimensions

Works are listed with unframed dimensions, measuring the overall image on the support (without the mat or frame) from edge to edge. If it was only possible to measure the work in the mat or frame, this is indicated. 

Height precedes width, and centimeters precede inches (in parentheses). For irregularly shaped works, the dimensions are listed as approximate and noted before the measurements. Fractions of inches are given to the nearest sixteenth. If approximate, the dimensions have been rounded up for purposes of this catalogue. Generally the metric dimensions were calculated mathematically based on the dimensions in inches rather than being a true measurement of the work. In certain instances, the dimensions listed may vary from previously published notations as works may have been measured by a variety of individuals over the years. In a few instances, where measurements were not available, the size has been estimated, and this is indicated.

Inscriptions

Inscriptions in the artist’s hand, giving such information as the date, title, and identification number, are listed under this heading. If listed as signed, we believe the signature is in the hand of the artist. The locations of the inscriptions are cited if known, with “recto” indicating the front and “verso” indicating the back of the work. If possible, all notations by the artist are recorded as written, with the exact spelling (including errors), uppercase or lowercase letters, and any other notations. Whether the signature is printed or in cursive form is detailed, if known. A sample signature notation thus might read: Signed in cursive by the artist with date and title annotated on verso in black paint: Sam Francis Grey Coast 1950. If it is documented that the work is signed and dated, but we do not have a record of the exact wording, it reads simply: Signed and dated. If the work is unsigned and undated, it reads: Unsigned and undated. If inscription information is currently unavailable, the citation reads: [?].

It is not uncommon for a work to lack any inscription or signature, since Francis did not have a set procedure for signing and dating his work and was reluctant to sign anything, even if requested to do so by his dealers or collectors. When asked about his omission of a signature, he commented: “Not signing is not a protest or a purposeful act but it just did not enter my thinking; maybe I just did something else that day.” In cases where he did use an inscription, he did not follow any definitive signature format. Periodically, Francis would sign his full name; frequently he would use his initials; on occasion, he would sign his name with a title and date; and intermittently he would just include a date or location.

Sometimes either the artist or studio assistants inscribed “top” or drew a directional arrow to show the preferred orientation, and this information is included in the Inscriptions section. At times, there is an additional notation, the initials “P.M.,” usually inscribed by the artist. This was Francis’s abbreviation for “Private Museum” (his personal reserve), an indication that the work was not to be sold but set aside and put in his own private storage at Galerie Kornfeld in Bern. In his inscriptions Francis also often designated a location, such as Bern, Paris, or Tokyo, to reference the city where the work was created. He used the broad designation “Los Angeles” to refer to his Santa Monica and Venice studios in Southern California.

 
Verso signature, date and inscriptions on SFF.60  

Additional Notations

This category references notations not in the artist’s hand. Works documented in the artist’s estate usually include two stamps on verso: “Sam Francis Estate” (in a logo format) and a facsimile signature stamp “Sam Francis” and are listed in section. 

If Francis’s designated studio assistants or staff of the artist's estate or foundation have added notations referring to their inventory numbers, dimensions, reproduction numbers, titles, orientation, or the like, this information is also included in this section. Labels affixed to the verso of an artwork or accompanying backing board are not described unless historically significant. 

Remarks 

This category references notations not in the artist's hand, studio assistants or staff such as gallery dealers, auction houses, museum staff, framers, or shipping companies. These additional inscriptions are generally written directly on the verso of artworks, the supports or frames. 

Creation Location

This field delineates the city (or state) where the work was created. At times, we have listed information on the specific studio used (e.g., Broadway studio in Santa Monica or Akasaka studio in Tokyo) in the Notes section. We have added specific information if the artist designated a studio or city within the inscriptions on the artwork.

Collection

The most recently verified ownership is listed under Collection. Every effort has been made to phrase the ownership credit according to the present owner’s instructions, including the accession numbers for museum collections (if stipulated) and references to acquisition by bequest, gift, or donation. Whenever possible, the current owners (including institutions) were asked to complete a questionnaire on the work, its provenance, and its exhibition history to substantiate and corroborate information in our files. If necessary, additional documentation and photography of the work were secured.

In cases where the current collector prefers not to be named or the provenance is unclear, the following designations are used:

  • Private collection: This listing indicates that the work has been verified to be in the hands of a private collection, but the collector wishes to remain anonymous. If the collector agreed, the city, state, or country is given.
  • [?]: Unverified provenance history 
  • Unverified collection: The current location of an artwork may have been reported to us via the prior collection or another source. As yet, however, we have not confirmed the location or the owners' preferred credit listing. 
  • Whereabouts unknown: A number of works were initially documented in the archives, but their provenance history is unsupported. Some of these works may have been destroyed. In any case, information or validation of their existence is incomplete and unverifiable at this time. Alternatively, this designation is used in instances were we have not been able to confirm current location within the last 10 years. Perhaps the artwork is still in the last known collection.

Provenance

All works originated with the artist, so his name is implied as the first owner in the provenance history. It is presumed that the first entry (name) on the provenance history list acquired the work directly from the artist, unless otherwise noted. Specific details on the transaction between the initial owner and the artist or his studio are not designated (unless it was known to be through a dealer or gallery), as the work may have been a gift or acquired through a personal sale or a trade. Subsequent owners are listed in chronological order, with the current owner as the last entry. We have attempted to contact former owners as well as current owners, to verify the data and inclusion of their names in the provenance text, but this has not always been possible. If former owners have been publicly identified or documented in other literature such as auction catalogues, exhibition catalogues, or periodicals, their names are included as they appeared in public record. If not clarified, we have deferred to listing such names as “Private collection.” If known, the month and year of acquisition are indicated in parentheses.

Unfortunately, it was not always possible to trace a complete provenance history. A question mark in brackets [?] immediately

 
  From the Sam Francis Archives

following the name on the entry line indicates uncertainty about whether the work was acquired directly from the previous entry. A question mark in brackets [?] on a separate line indicates a suspected break in the provenance sequence between the two entries, with unverified provenance history at this time. Brokers, auction houses, galleries, and private dealers have not been listed specifically in the provenance history unless they acquired the work or were the disclosed primary agent in the transfer of a sale. If a work changed hands due to a referenced gallery exhibition or auction sale, this information is listed as an additional notation in brackets (e.g., [through Galerie Kornfeld, Bern]) after the owner’s entry on the same line. A large number of the transactions are documented in the artist’s archive, including notes associating a change of ownership with a sale, gift, or transfer between interested parties. In some instances, if the work was returned to the artist’s inventory, this designation is noted in brackets—  [Returned to the artist]—with the transaction date, if known.

As already explained, we have exhaustively searched the artist’s records and other documents on hand, as well as contacting owners, when possible, but we cannot verify every transfer of title for every work. A number of transactions were private, unrecorded exchanges between the artist and his family, friends, and dealers. In addition, works may have been transferred between family members through inheritance or otherwise without these details entering the artist’s records. For most of these lapses in provenance history, we believe the works probably exist in private collections, but their status is pending further research. When joint ownership or questions about provenance have come to our attention, we have included this in the Provenance section or referenced pending research under Notes.

For auction history, if our records indicate the work was transferred at a public sale, this information will be noted in the provenance. The full auction history information and history, whether sold or not, are outlined extensively in Literature References. When available, we have provided external links to the URL for the main auction sale catalogues. We have not linked individual lots, so the user can search each auction site for specifics. 

Exhibitions

Where applicable, the exhibition history for each artwork includes both solo and selected group shows listed in chronological order, from earliest to most recent, with venue, city, title of exhibition, and date. If an artwork was included in an exhibition and cited in the checklist or illustrated in the catalogue, it is referenced in this section. Accompanying catalogues and Additional venues are cited if applicable (which are not repeated in the selected Literature References). If an artwork was not exhibited in the show, but is referenced in the catalogue in an essay or image, it is included in the listings under Literature References (see below). 

When we have been able to confirm the citation in an exhibition catalogue, the entry states that the work is illustrated. For example, “no. 3, p. 25, ill. in color” indicates that in the exhibition catalogue the work is numbered 3 and illustrated in color on page 25. We have only cited page numbers for the illustration, not for text references. A black-and-white reproduction is cited as “ill. in b/w” and, if we are unsure if the illustration is color or black-and-white, then it is listed as “ill.”

Works in continuous long-term exhibitions at public institutions are not generally listed in the entries, but a few are noted.

Literature References

 
From the Literature References in Sam Francis Archives  

The published literature references – the bibliography –  specific to the artwork entries are listed chronologically by author or editor or by publisher. For edited volumes, the editor(s) are listed first with any other authors listed in order of appearance in the publication when known. Gallery and museum catalogues are generally listed by author or venue. Essays or texts within catalogues are listed as separate entries within the main book or catalogue.

Page numbers, if available, are cited for illustrations. A color reproduction is cited as “ill. in color,” black-and-white reproduction is cited as “ill. in b/w,” and, if we are unsure if the illustration is color or black-and-white, then it is listed solely as “ill.” The illustration notation is assigned to an artwork when it has been reproduced in full as a referential image within a publication. Documentary and historical photographs are not listed under Literature References for any artwork. 

Because of Sam Francis’s international stature, an abundance of references exist in publications throughout the world. In the bibliography, we have chosen to include only those articles, reviews, catalogue essays, and books that provide substantive or historically important discussions of the artist or his work or present illustrations of his works. For the SFCR entries, we have primarily cited references that include an illustration of the work. External links to online publications have been incorporated if available, as many substantive publications are now online.

Notes

In researching and organizing the data in this catalogue raisonné, we have constantly sought to confirm the information. Some artworks have sanctioned data, while others are subject to change as new facts are revealed with continued scholarship. We must reiterate this catalogue is not presented as an authenticator, nor should it be construed as an absolute accounting of Francis’s works. It is a chronicle of known works at this time.

In addition to clarification of the information presented, the notes sections include complementary data as well as quotes or references by the artist or others if pertinent. We have not attempted to provide summary notes about all works, elaborate on the ownership and collections history, or offer art historical comments, as these writings are available to the reader in the bibliographic materials cited.

Archival Materials

This section includes photographic images showing views from the artist’s studio (sometimes showing the work in progress), exhibitions, and other installation views.