David Rhodes, author of the Contemporary Painters Series monograph on Bernard Frize, talks to Meris Ryan-Goff about Frize's unique style of painting and the experience of writing this fascinating study of his work.
DR: I attended the opening of Bernard’s exhibition at Chisenhale Gallery, London in February 1994. This was the first time I saw his paintings. I had heard from Adrian Searle, the critic, that this was going to be a very interesting show and that the work was amongst the very best painting of the moment: exploring the possibilities of abstraction in new ways. I saw the exhibition and had to agree that Adrian was right. I also saw another exhibition of Bernard’s at Frith Street Gallery in November that year, and this also impressed me. I was very curious about how free these beautiful paintings were, even though they were clearly based in some kind of system of randomness. It appeared to be just this approach that allowed the paintings to remain open rather than to become constricted. His paintings were unapologetically paintings: there was no excising of colour that might have implied that they were a placebo, that they were only painting as a conceptual project (as was not so uncommon at the time).
Pages from 'Bernard Frize' featuring "Cinquante six.deux" and "Caisse" from 1996 and 1997.
MRG: How did you first go about researching and preparing for this Contemporary Painters monograph?
DR: First I read all the material I could find - published interviews, catalogue essays, exhibition reviews. I also spoke with artists, critics and curators who were familiar with Bernard’s work. During this time I also met with Bernard in Berlin - speaking with him and seeing recent work in his studio - and after this we corresponded via email exchanges. I also did further reading based on Bernard’s interests, and comments made about his own approach and experience of painting in our conversations.
MRG: Can you talk to us about the balance of interviewing an artist, and using your own interpretations of their work for a book project like this?
DR: I don’t think that interpreting the works was my principle interest: I wanted to stay as close as possible to the artist’s view of his process, and to the existing on-going context for his work. To represent this accurately was the challenge, and of course I rejected some discourse around his work that I found misleading or lazy. I was also aware that when it came to any interpretation of the paintings, Bernard is totally open. He is not in the business of controlling reactions and interpretations. So, like everyone else I had a bias or preference too.
Pages from 'Bernard Frize' featuring "Alcantara" and "Insulaire P" both from 2004.
MRG: Do you think Frize’s paintings lend themselves to chronological consideration?
DR: Yes, and no. Chronology, as it is usually considered, is a partial subject of Bernard’s way of producing groups of paintings. He will continue simultaneously with different groups of work or will return to bodies of work that might seem to have ended, until his interest has been exhausted. Of course, a chronological consideration reveals this. A good example of non-chronological presentation - instead grouping the paintings thematically - is the recent Centre Pompidou exhibition curated by Angela Lampe. This exhibition presents a very productive non-chronological perspective that allows fresh connections and comparisons between paintings that are actually from different moments in Bernard’s career.
MRG: How are colour and texture important to Frize and his painting process?
DR: Both are of vital importance for what could be said to be opposite reasons. First, all colours are used; there is no taste preference or applied ideal regarding which colours are beautiful or, on the other hand, ugly. Colour choice is open - with a few caveats that occur within each protocol in making each series of painting (for example avoiding colours together that are all of the same hue or of the same tonal value). In respect to surface, there is a continuum, a constancy, in the smooth, flat emulsion of the paintings. There are no pentimento effects or variance in the general accumulation of paint.
Bernard Frize (left) "71% Vrai 22% Faux", 2005, Acrylic and resin on canvas, Private collection, photo © André Morin & (right) "Ule", 2005, Acrylic and resin on canvas, Private collection, photo © Youngha Cho.
MRG: In future, how do you think Frize will be seen as relating to his artistic era, alongside contemporaries, whether French or international?
DR: I think Bernard’s importance will increase, since he not only discovered a position in painting that is singular, but he is also a significant example for artists establishing independent ways of considering and making painting without rejecting painting for something else -- painting as placebo painting, or ersatz painting. He was well ahead in this tendency, having begun his commitment to painting during an incredibly bleak period for artists to even consider being a painter, let alone have a career as one. The critical, intellectual discourse around art has now included painting; this was not the case when Bernard started his career.
Pages from 'Bernard Frize' featuring 'Palter' 2012 (right).
Hardback • 144 Pages • Size: 280 × 240 mm
100 colour illustrations
ISBN: 9781848223479 • Publication: July 03, 2019
Series: Contemporary Painters Series
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