It was in the mid 1970’s, at a time when painting was regarded by many of his contemporaries as being obsolete that Bernard Frize (b. 1949, Saint-Mandé, France) began to focus his attention exclusively on the act of painting. His abstract compositions derived from elaborately constructed rules, carefully choreographed performances which determined entirely the works’ formal composition. In one early series Frize peeled off the coloured skins from pots of paint left open in the studio and applied them over the surface of the canvas, the wet paint on the disks’ undersides acting as adhesive. More recent compositions involve teams of assistants moving their linked brushes across a wet white ground, and like the participants in a may-pole dance, mixing colours and forming interweaving bands of colour as they go.
Frize's paintings might then seem to find their place within the rich and familiar territory of 'process painting', their lush brushstrokes acting as an index of the carefully choreographed rituals by which they are created. But there is a further twist to the story, and it is in this that Frize’s work truly stands apart. Close inspection reveals that any trace of materiality or depth to the painted mark is conspicuously absent. Rather than indexes of the act of painting, Frize presents his viewers with pure images of paint, colour and reflected light.
Bernard Frize: Blackout in the Grid
Simon Lee Gallery is proud to present an exhibition of paintings by Bernard Frize, the fourth to be held in the London gallery. This exhibition brings together paintings from Frize’s most recent series with works made in the decade from 1999 to 2008. As the Centre Pompidou prepares for its first major survey exhibition of the artist’s work, to be held in 2019, the juxtaposition of these works reveals both the consistency of Frize’s project, and his constant innovation.
Throughout his career, Frize has revisited and revised his own works from earlier series. The loops and switchbacks of the trajectory of his career seem to echo those interweaving marks which structure many of the paintings themselves. He has spoken of these structures as devices for the removal of compositional decisions. The paintings proceed in series; the series are determined by the rules which govern them. He continues until the variations, and the possibility to produce new results, are exhausted. Frize’s project is, simply stated, one of reducing painting to its most fundamental elements, of using structure and system to govern and regulate the compositional process and thus absolve the artist from the decision making process, so that there is nothing more to the work than its physical, even technological, method of production.