Francis moved to Melbourne at the age of 21. His basic propensity for truth seeking was fostered by the culture of this large city and led him to ‘the religion of art’: playing the piano, writing and also drawing and painting. He was employed as an art model at the Melbourne National Gallery School and he also enrolled in the art classes.
He became a part-time attendant at the National Gallery and started mixing with other young art students and painters including Sidney Nolan, John Sinclair, Albert Tucker and John Perceval. His ideal at this time was the artist who like Beethoven was totally dedicated to his art.
In October 1939 An Exhibition of Contemporary European Painting & Sculpture arrived in Melbourne. It was so radical that the conservative art establishment at the National Gallery of Victoria would not exhibit the works. It was eventually hung in the top floor of a Department store. It was a revelation to the local artists and was the first time that most of them had seen this calibre of painting up close and “in the real”.
Francis said “it knocked their socks off” J.P.
The Exhibition included major works by Cezanne, Van Gogh, Seurat, Gauguin, Picasso, Matisse, Braque, Dali, Chagall and many others [200 works in all, 5 or 6 by each artist, some large]. The Revolution had arrived. Francis, too, was inspired into creativity, but he later said “I forgot Cliff’s [Bayliss] insistence that good painting rests on drawing, and plunged straightway into colour“. [Keating 31]
The art of modernism of course opened vast vistas for expressing the artists’ subconscious realms and inner nature.
In 1941 he exhibited some of his paintings for the first time along with Nolan, Boyd, Dobell, Tucker and many other young artists who were destined to be major Australian artists
In the annual exhibition of the Contemporary Art Society four of Francis’ paintings were shown among the over 300 works on display:
“Portrait” (He also called this work “Portrait of a Self Realized Soul”)
Even in the army and in hospital he kept up the painting. In the 1942 CAS Exhibition three of his paintings were hung:
“Bonegilla Military Hospital Heidelberg”
“Mess Hut, Bonegilla”
His art was part of his efforts to integrate life and art: “… my view that physical discipline was necessary for the artist and that he should work from direct experience.” (Keating 47)
His works suggest an innocence of vision which a deliberate primitivism is attempting to convey. His discipline of meditative concentration was providing him with images.
It appears he did some paintings while living with Baron von Frankenberg, his Sufi teacher. There is one from 1946 depicting a person in a meditative pose.
Francis said “that he liked painting but he found he could not express himself with that medium and decided to switch to poetry and words” (J.P.).
Ross Keating’s book tells us that he fell into a period of deep depression. Although he kept painting for some time it would seem that the centre of gravity of his quest for self-knowledge was shifting towards sacred traditions of inner transformation like Buddhism and Sufism.
This separated him from the other artists who were affirming their individual and cultural identity through their art.
It was to be through following a devotional path that Francis would mature, and increasingly he found that words were his proper medium.
But he was no longer part of the new wave of Australian Art and had soon placed himself under the spiritual guidance of his Sufi Teacher.
Later on he was to meet and become a close disciple of the Avatar of the Age, Meher Baba, with whom he lived in India for 10 years.