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Bernard Frize 

Bernard FRIZE 

 

Examining Pictures First of all. What do pictures consist of? What are they all about? There is no end, in fact, to the number of different kinds of pictures. Naturally artists from time to time have struggled to enlarge on these limitations and the history of art is a succession of their successes and failures. See the impressionists, the cubists. At first glance one might be forgiven for wondering what the connection might be between John Baldessari’s wittily insightful critique of the pedagogical language on how to make art (and in particular painting) and Bernard Frize’s apparent continuation of the project of abstraction. After exposure to more than a couple of works by Frize, however, one begins to suspect that beneath the undeniably beautiful chromatic surface a very different kind of order has been established. In fact Baldessari’s quotes, variations and one liners from ‘how to make art’ text books and art criticism of the day seem to suggest possible guidelines used by Frize in his idea-driven, serial work. “A Work with Only One Property,” “A Painting that is its Own Documentation,” “Pure Beauty,” and “Everything is Purged from this Painting But Art, No Ideas Have Entered this Work,” for example seem entirely apt descriptions for many of Frize’s paintings which deliberately exclude the romantic language of painterly expression for the rules and regulations of what could be called “found painting.” Taking the bare essentials of his tools (brushes, canvas, paint), ready-made images or designs, Frize sets about to make work according to a pre-determined structure. Paintings are produced in series according to the idea, pattern or rules Frize has established until the idea at hand has been exhausted or achieved to satisfaction. Past series of works, for example, have consisted of paintings for which the artist has taken dried skins of paint that have formed at the top of an open can and placed them on the canvas surface, repeating the gesture until the pot was empty. Or, for example, the work which he painted blindfolded, following the instructions of someone else directing him variously to move the paintbrush right or left. Frize seems to delight in the process of inventing rules or structures to adhere to that will remove, as much as possible, the intrusion of choice or expression, relying only on material or external constraints. It seems, in fact, that even the chromatic brilliance of Frize’s work is a result of this effort to avoid decision-making—in particular in the loaded realm of colour association and its consequent implication of an emotive or aesthetic choice (red=anger, blue=calm). In particular Frize does not want the colours to be associated with brand or image and thus fairly randomly uses as many colours as possible. He has said that he tries “…to attain a neutrality. So that nothing dominates and you can never say which is the dominant colour.” A rainbow-like array is often the result of this process and, at the risk of irritating Frize, one might even say that this wide chromatic spectrum has become part of his signature, a ‘Frizean’ colour combination rather than a particular monochromatic identification. Despite trying to establish a work-like neutrality (as opposed to artistic expressivity) in the process of painting the effects of chance and technical facility play a major role in the outcome of the work. The intrusion (and embracing) of the random in Frize’s work relates again to early conceptual art and the significant influence of John Cage. Within a prescribed action with a stated aim there is also room for the unexpected outcome, a chance event that is all the more noticeable for its occurrence within the set parameters. Frize himself has explained how it is only through a very careful process of ordering that chance can play its role. He says, somewhat self-effacingly about this element of chance in his work, “To use it you have to be very lazy. That is to say, you have to find very elaborate strategies so that chance can come in to it. …I think in order to give chance its head you have to create the conditions for chance and that takes a long time. It’s a very complicated business, organizing situations in which you do nothing and things will happen on their own.” Without structure, chance would simply be disorder, but it is within the tightly conceived rules of the game established by Frize that chance can then be recognised as such and thus take effect. One way in which chance is allowed to manifest itself in Frize’s work is through his practice of making in the instant : he often produces work very quickly once the rules or game that will dictate the making of the series have been established. Frize has said of this practice that he often paints “…all in one go. …it’s a little like a happening” and that “…to retouch is already to cheat.” But of the many canvases that are completed only one (or perhaps none at all) may be retained as a successful piece to be exhibited and retained. Presumably Frize will retain only those works that adhere to and realise the structure that was established at the outset of the painting event. Indeed this process of elimination and decreed failure in Frize’s structurally driven painting process suggests that part of the game that the artist sets out is to test his own technical ability or gamesmanship with each new series. Constantly thinking of new challenges with which to confront himself Frize confronts the limitations or accepted parameters in making art. Presumably, for Frize, once the game or process conceived to make the work has been mastered, it is time to move on to a new challenge or a new idea, a process that also explains the artist’s relatively large output. One senses that in addition to testing his own limits he is also driven by a desire to avoid a sense of boredom from facility. Jens Hoffman Director of the CCA(California College of the Arts) Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, San Francisco. Extracted from catalogue : Longues Lignes(souvent fermées), Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, Paris, France, 2007