Magazine article Art Monthly

Bernard Frize: Red, Yellow and Blue

Magazine article Art Monthly

Bernard Frize: Red, Yellow and Blue

Article excerpt

Bernard Frize: Red, Yellow and Blue

Simon Lee London 10 February to 24 March

Who's afraid of Barnett Newman? Plenty are, it seems; his series of four paintings from the late 1960s, 'Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue', have been attacked--physically--on several occasions, from a simple battering with museum furniture to one rather involved reworking that saw a creative use of collage. Even the restoration work following a knife attack led to its own high-profile court case. Bernard Frize, however, is not afraid, and has formulated a response to Newman's famously unforgiving artworks with his own set of four paintings: Rely, Pox, Ra'im and Tara, the central pieces in this exhibition, all from 2010 and each measuring 2.4m by 2.1m. They consist of a series of vertical and horizontal strokes produced with a wide brush--about the size of a sweeping brush. The portrait-format canvases fit six strokes horizontally, five vertically. Like Newman's series, these paintings use only red, yellow and blue paint. However, unlike Newman's, these are not only red, yellow and blue paintings; the strokes have been applied on top of each other while the paint was wet, so the cleanly loaded brushes quickly pick up and mix the colours into smears, smudges and streaks that initially revel in an expanding palette but ultimately tend towards brown.

The resulting imagery bears an inevitable resemblance to Gerhard Richter's well-known squeegee paintings, but Frize's works are less about the creative destruction of an existing image, like Richter's, and more about the development of imagery through process. Since the 1970s Frize has focused on rules for producing paintings, even relating early works--which involved letting cans of paint dry and sliding the circular skins from the surface of the paint onto canvas--to the stages involved in developing images through darkroom photography. Over time this interest has evolved into rule-based painting techniques that involve numerous participants working brushes across the canvas simultaneously, which is what has taken place here: a small team have worked together to create single, full-length wipes across the canvas so, rather than the lone performer of mid-1960s action painting, this is the work of a choreographed troupe. The results are minimal in figurative or compositional structures, but complex in form and colour. The rigid high modernism of Newman's shallow colour fields is scrambled through a collective performance, where every wobble and dip remains as evidence of the human hand and the resultant colours speak of chemical processes of organic compound combination rather than the mechanical rules of abstracted modernist systems or the purity of Newman's archaic spiritualism. …

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