Magazine article Artforum International

Rule and Branch

Magazine article Artforum International

Rule and Branch

Article excerpt

It is a contemporary cliche: the painter who frenetically switches modes, so as to undermine the ideal of stylistic identity. Bernard Frize's paintings, at first glance, give the impression of this kind of extreme heterogeneity, but while his work may follow no regular, easily parsed progression, neither is it animated by a kind of Brownian movement that deprives it of all structure. Rather, this work reveals an order that is both branching and discontinuous, like a network of echoes and resurgences.

The principal difficulty of Frize's oeuvre derives from the fact that the kinship among individual paintings or groups of works is not one of appearance but of method. To take a simple example, consider the works in the "Lacquers" series (begun in 1990) in relation to the paintings from the 1980 "Suite Segond." To make one of the "Lacquers," Frize blends paints of various colors in a box, lets the surface dry, then sticks this hardened skin to a canvas. Wrapped around the deep stretcher bars, the sheet of congealed paint fits the canvas in one piece. In the second series, Frize opens cans of paint, waits for the surfaces to dry, and applies the hardened disks that form there to canvas in random accumulations. In spite of their procedural similarities, the two series could not appear more different.

Here we find the principle of disjunction characteristic of Frize's work. This attraction to visual oppositions corresponds to a taste--sometimes indulged to the point of absurdity--for the displaced or incongruous. For Frize, a good painting is one in which something that "doesn't work" is conserved in all the power of its irresolution, in all its interlocutory tension. The recent large-format paintings combining the immiscible media of ink with acrylic bear witness to this idea. It's this kind of incongruity that is close to Frize's heart, as he admitted in the following conversation, recorded recently in his Paris studio, among works being packed up for his current exhibition at the Kunsthalle Zurich.

JEAN-PIERRE CRIQUI: Your first works appeared in 1977. These deeply paradoxical objects were painted with "trainards," very fine brushes traditionally used for painting ships' rigging in seascapes. But you used them to produce allover surfaces composed of thousands of tiny multicolored strokes. How do you see these early pieces today?

BERNARD FRIZE: I'd have to say that they were much more connected to the material conditions of their production than my current work is, in that I had to make do with very limited means. I only had a small room to paint in, and the amount of time the works required was really well suited to my schedule. Every layer could dry while I was working at my job as a printmaker. I had stopped painting when I left art school, but I got back into it somewhat, after coming to terms with my political uncertainties regarding the viability of the practice, by looking for an activity in painting, in the most literal, down-to-earth sense. Since I worked weekends, as a sort of a "Sunday painter," it was logical that I would choose a tool typical of those painters who sit and paint boats on the beaches in Brittany. It was great to discover that these very specialized brushes were made by fishermen during the winter when they weren't going out to sea. So everything was absolutely amateur.

JPC: In that attitude, I see one of your favorite working rules: carrying out one operation according to the modalities of another with which it has nothing in common. For example, it seems obvious that the trainards are not made for working on surfaces as large as a square meter. . . .

BF: Not only that, but I took a lot of care to make the strokes go slightly beyond the painting's edges, forming little hills of paint on the sides of the canvas as it overflowed, so that one could see both the rule and the overflowing of the rule simultaneously. And all this for a painting that ultimately looks like a piece of cloth, for a surface that does nothing more nor less than reiterate what it literally covers. …

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