Bernard Frize’s paintings follow precise guidelines that are easily recognizable to beholders. They lack the element of mystery, if you will. Frize’s style painting does not seem to want to represent anything, but should rather be regarded as works that each reflect on the medium anew. It is a succession of rational decisions. By working in series, often several at once, Frize explores how the painterly variance of his decisions can serve as a method of creating pictures.
His paintings follow a repertoire of rules, or instructions, that allow them to be clearly described. They are abstract as well as conceptual; yet, each result is extremely complex. The works may appear to follow an automatic process, a peinture automatique, while in fact they are grounded in a performative act. Moving the brush and applying paint to the canvas counteracts the seemingly rational concept behind each work, lending each a distinct individuality. What Josef Albers described as the inevitable difference between factual fact and actual fact with respect to color – the first means color can be described objectively, while the second means color must be experienced visually – is for Frize the creative process of painting tself: in other words, the act of painting and brushstrokes, and the use of paint and its application.
Frize has been following a strict set of rules in his artistic practice since the 1970s. These rules are intentionally laconic and negate any intellectual or conceptual superstructure. Despite this, Frize is also well aware of the influence of conceptual superstructures on the genre of painting and of their deep roots in the history of art in Europe. The discrepancy between what is visible and what is describable, between the sensory perception and the physical substance of the picture, plays a role in Frize’s painting insofar as the seemingly simple implementation of self-imposed guidelines produces a multitude of subjective experiences, despite essentially following a set of rules
As the artist stresses, the audience must be able to see the idea behind the picture immediately, as if they had painted the work themselves. That is why, in the selected works exhibited here, we often find grid-like patterns resembling a woven succession of delicate lines in different color gradients. Although we may be able to easily understand their composition, if we want to call it that, the works themselves venture far beyond primary rationality, as their coloration acquires an abundance of connotations, thereby contradicting the application of paint according to a given plan.
Frize has often said that he is not particularly interested in color. Yet this hardly seems believable when looking at the intensely fascinating color schemes of his canvases. He applies paint in an almost mechanical way with his hands and a brush, mixing synthetic resin with fluid acrylic paint to purge the emotional component from his brushwork and seal the pictorial surface. He prominently alludes to core themes in the painterly discourse – like brushwork and finish – only to strip these of their status as indicators of painterly authorship, deconstructing them and transforming them into a signature style after all.
Two complementary, if not paradoxical systems are at work in Frize’s oeuvre. As the artist once said, “In order for chance to work, you have to create conditions that make it possible, which takes a lot of time.” The instrumental facts of applying paint to the canvas and minimizing subjective interventions in the pictorial process contrast with the intrinsic rules of painting as such. From the beginning, Frize’s painting has taken up a singular position in the field of contemporary abstraction. Less of a deliberate act of creation and more an ongoing exploration of the conditions thereof, Frize’s painting represents the continuous investigation of what defines a picture, what it stands for, and what makes it possible – and not least, what still makes it necessary today.
That Frize gave his pictures titles instead of the modernist Untitled should be understood as part of his strategy of avoiding subjective decisions whenever possible. Erid, Uji, and Marla may trigger unspecific associations, yet they are purely made-up words that do not refer to anything in particular. As such, they assume a kind of productive non-relationship to the pictures they stand for, making us painfully aware that any attempt to understand the work by referring to its title is a dead end. The beauty of language as a poetic system remains modestly silent.