By PAUL LASTER, MAY 2016
“I’m loyal to my medium and its demands.” – Bernard Frize
For his tenth one-person show with Galerie Perrotin and his first New York solo outing since exhibiting at Pace in 2013, Bernard Frize is presenting “Dawn Comes Up So Young,” which offers two new suites of abstract paintings from the past year, along with an earlier group of non-representational canvases that evoke traditional Chinese landscapes.
Painting in experimental modes for the past forty years, the celebrated French artist constructs color-saturated canvases that do not adhere to any singular style. More precisely, his process-based manner of painting involves planning the way a canvas will be created and then submitting that method to the laws of chance. Exploring a never-ending variety of techniques for applying pigment, Frize often works on several series of paintings at once — a system that allows him to continue a conceptual conversation from one cycle of canvases to the ensuing one.
At the heart of his practice is a desire to reveal how the painting is produced. Frize wants the viewer to grasp the physical process. He wants us to understand that instead of dipping a brush into paint he paints the brush and then applies it to the canvas or that he employs multiple brushes, while carefully choreographing the purposeful movements that he performs.
Lóránd Hegyi, the director of the Museum of Modern Art of Saint-Etienne, summed it up in simple terms in his catalogue essay for Size Matters, the artist’s traveling European survey show (1999-2000), when he wrote, “Each picture presents a method, and the resultant form is the manifestation of this method.”
The methods for the two new series of paintings in the exhibition are intriguingly diverse. In one group of medium-scale, square canvases the artist pours acrylic paint, wet-on-wet on a resin-soaked surface. Working flat instead of on the wall, he moves the aluminum-backed canvas around so that the areas of color bleed into one another—creating lush, flowing, abstract fields.
For the second group of large-scale, vertical abstractions, Frize utilizes small brushes that are tied together and swept over areas of multi-colored paint and resin with a downward motion to create wide, rainbow-like sections of singular strokes. Once completed, the upper part of the canvas is covered in black paint, which flows down the surface, intermingling with the colorful streaks, almost as if to stop their rise.
Contrasting these abstract works is a series of monochromatic canvases that suggest traditional Chinese mountain-water landscape paintings. Configured vertically, the motifs are constructed from the bottom to the top by brushing runny paint horizontally across the surface and then turning the structure over to let the fluid paint drip down the resin-coated canvas. Amongst the largest paintings the artist has ever made, the fascinating series was created between 1992 and 1993.
When Bernard Frize was awarded the Käthe Kollwitz Prize in 2015 by the Berlin Akademie der Künste the jury members Ayşe Erkmen, Mona Hatoum and Karin Sander wrote in their statement, “He strives with the utmost sophistication toward the advancement of contemporary painterly abstraction and the development of a topology of painterly gestures and structures.”
Frize’s objective form of art bridges the gap between the post-painterly abstraction of Helen Frankenthaler, Morris Louis and Jules Olitski, which is marked by its openness, clarity and color, and the minimalist painters Frank Stella, Kenneth Noland and Sol LeWitt, who were more concerned with the autonomy of art. As Stella famously stated in a 1964 interview, “What you see is what you see.“ The same is true of Frize’s work. WM
Bernard Frize: Dawn Comes Up So Young is on view at Galerie Perrotin New York through July 01, 2016.
Paul Laster is a writer, editor, curator, artist and lecturer. He’s a contributing editor at ArtAsiaPacific and Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art and writer for Time Out New York, Harper’s Bazaar Arabia, Galerie Magazine, Sculpture, Art & Object, Cultured, Architectural Digest, Garage, Surface, Ocula, Observer, ArtPulse, Conceptual Fine Arts and Glasstire. He was the founding editor of Artkrush, started The Daily Beast’s art section, and was art editor of Russell Simmons’ OneWorld Magazine, as well as a curator at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, now MoMA PS1.
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