Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Bernard Frize, Sans Repentir au Centre Pompidou

Bernard Frize, Oma, 2007
Bernard Frize: Without Remorse in the street level gallery space at the Centre Pompidou gives a substantial overview of the contemporary French painter’s oeuvre. As I wandered around, I wasn’t always convinced, unable to decide if the works were serious and substantial, or gimmicky and superficial. But the more I think about them, the more I want to keep thinking. The first thing we notice about Frize’s compelling paintings is their sleek, shiny finish. Through a process of mixing paint and a lacquer-like resin, the porosity of the canvas is sealed and the gesture of the painter’s brush ostensibly lost to the surface. The end result are works look that look more like paint on a metal support than acrylics on canvas.
 
Bernard Frize, Rassemblement5, 2003
One of the most intriguing aspects is that the paintings are extremely difficult to penetrate. They are filled with pretty colours, and therefore, very pleasing to the eye, very easy to look at. But lingering in front of them, ironically, leads frustration. This is partly due to the hardness of the reflective finish, making them cold and completely without depth, thus not inviting contemplation of any sort.  But it is also about the fact that the image reminds those of us with a desire for order and logic of a geometrical or mathematical puzzle. Frize’s process of production – which the text accompanying the exhibition focuses on, perhaps to the exclusion of other important details – is to fill one or multiple brushes with paint and then move around the canvas in a single stroke. Sometimes, Frize works with up to six people all with multiple brushes doing the same thing. Thus, our first response to the work is to use our eye to follow the movement or performance of the artist/s with their brushes before us, twisting and turning our gaze to follow the maze like patterns around the canvas. Then, all of a sudden, our eye hits a clear break in the flow of the brushes and we have to start all over again. This process of discovering patterns in the strokes, only to be frustrated, disappointed, or to find the logic disintegrate altogether, sent me moving to the next canvas in hope that I could find coherence there.
 
Bernard Frize, 80F, 1991
Alternatively, in a work such as Oma (2007) in which spray painted lines looking like a gridded representation of the metro map lead our eyes through a never ending maze of tunnels and secret passages, with one color turning into another, taking over the journey. But we can’t stay on the grid for long because the blurring of the lines and the resultant haze over the image are incompatible with our need for clarity and precision, for sense and reason. And so we keep moving.
 
Bernard Frize, Suite Segond LD, 1980
Detail
Because of this difficulty of looking at otherwise very beautiful abstract paintings, I am beginning to enjoy Frize’s work more since I left the exhibition. Thinking back, Frize is doing many interesting things with painting as a measure of time, painting as a measure of the density of color on the end of a brush, the forces of gravity as they influence and form the unpredictability of movement of paint around a canvas. He is also playing with ideas of artistic originality, and testing the expectations we bring to painting, and the desires we project onto it. In addition, the works raise issues such as what happens with the collision of colours by accident or intention as they have moved around the painted canvas over centuries.  
 
Bernard Frize, Sans Titre, 1986
Lastly, the catalogue essays make interesting connections to other paintings from Chardin’s exquisite representation of the soap bubble’s reflective surface to Barnett Newman’s rearrangement of the focus of the image in his paintings. I am sure Frize has many influences, and there’s no doubt that the work engages the history of painting, particularly postwar American abstraction in interesting ways. On the level of process, application, and the unpredictable movement of paint when it is pushed around a canvas, there must be infinite connections. However, it’s also quite possible to enjoy the games Frize’s invites us to play with paintings that always outsmart us. I am now convinced enough that I will visit the concurrent exhibition of Frize’s painting at Galerie Perrotin in the Marais.

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