The work of Bernard Frize is something of a painterly exercise in contradictions, playing with sensations of an endless void against dualities of hindrance and motion, creating complex dialogues over the surface of the canvas. Lustrous veils of color plunge to the edge of the frame, highlighting its periphery in a vibrant glow. Voluminous swirls and blends of color challenge the often opaque surfaces with deeper dimensions, hints of infinite planes of white or black beneath its surface, that offer his pieces a sense of weight and depth far beyond their material capacities.
Frize’s work is currently the subject of an exhibition at Galerie Perrotin, the first New York show with the gallery for the artist, furthering the esteem that Frize has already earned from the European art world. Making the most of this platform, his newest sixteen paintings recall earlier works of his from the 1990’s, four of which are on display here. Ubos, Udon, Upir, and Uitr resemble seismographs, or ancient Chinese landscapes “[that] open up to a kind of illusionist aberration, and then quickly fall apart,” according to the artist. Akin to poetic figurations in material and technique, Frize’s new work sees the artist mixing synthetic resin with fluid acrylics, tilting the canvas slightly so that the colors run down the surface in thick stripes, allowing chance to make its mark on each piece.
Yet the similarities between the new and old paintings stop there. The new compositions are vastly different in their ability to distill an experience that is purely visual. Any hint of figuration is absent, pushing an ineffable, visual impact that is felt rather than explored. Frize acknowledged this situation presciently through this particular sense of paradox in 1993 (around the time he made the four works) telling Artforum: “the figurative pieces I’ve done are even more ambiguous than the abstract ones.” The early works function like a mirage, Frize suggested, “just as [they] are not unconnected to the place from where they are seen, nor the place they dematerialize.”
The new works, on the other hand, provide keys to an underlying deliberation in the paintings, in which the extemporaneous use of color and free-wheeling orchestrations distinguish themselves by each decisive adjustment of design. Radiant flushes of color swarm and coalesce in an ecstatic flurry, radiating out from the surface in their deep hues and shades, occupying a pictorial realm that floats between abstract and representational imagery, as if viewing their subjects through a rippling, twisting medium.
Yet while the fluid, amorphous forms may seem to be made ad libitum, Frize is still an exacting artist, and each paintings’ trajectory unfurls as his paint pours across its surface, reflecting the subtle manipulations of the canvas. In this way, Frize employs highly refined techniques in conjunction with a limited element of chance, rendering the picture as a transparent record of the process used to create it. They are executed quickly, some in under ten minutes, yet their complex patterns and movements almost require more time to view and understand, continuing his paradoxical relation to his work.
Even his approach to color is perplexing. Whereas his style recalls Color Field painters like Morris Louis or Helen Frakenthaler, for whom color was the very subject of their paintings, Frize has described colors as “immaterial,” claiming not to consider aesthetic decisions over factors like speed, experimentation, or chance. Asked if he envisions a color scheme before he paints, Frize answered, “I don’t compose. It’s chance that decides.” The only time he chooses color is to systematize: “I change colors when I change lines… it’s automatic.” A dance between material and composition, his paint is alive in a rupturing of the line between chance and order.
Through a choice selection of works, the exhibition traces the evolution of Frieze’s iconoclastic style, using a small collection of works to reflect his paintings as statements of radical, instantaneous transformation, of “emerging and collapsing,” through the power of hidden processes. It is a striking prospect, and one that pervades the work on view.
Frize’s show closes June 18th.
— Quincy Childs