On ViewPace Gallery
February 1 – March 9, 2013
Somehow the sum of 100 percent offhandedness and 100 percent calculation, Bernard Frize’s paintings continue to defy even their own expectations, provocatively dividing them from the work of his peers without coming off as anything but inclusive. Strictly self-contained yet saturated by a plasticity that has attitude, Frize’s process has always been anchored by his requirement that “the procedures of my paintings don’t go beyond what one uses in everyday life.” And while the title of this exhibition, Winter Diary, suggests the display of a certain level of intimacy, it was clear on arrival that the paintings extend the range of Frize’s mesmerizing routines while not becoming anything close to familiar, not to mention knowable.
For the past four decades, Frize has made it clear that painting is (at least for him) both driven and sustained by what he knows and does not know about it. I have been a dedicated viewer of his work since the late 1990s, and over the years I’ve slowly moved from treating his work as merely a puzzle to be solved to accepting it as a solution to be puzzled over. A few years ago I was focused on the manner in which Frize’s paintings are “ends” that are brilliant beginnings—technically still sequences of colors that are reactivated in our brains. (This was provoked by the third and eighth reasons that his predecessors Daniel Buren, Olivier Mosset, Michel Parmentier, and Niel Toroni [BMPT] proclaimed they were not painters in a 1967 statement that they issued as a flyer: “because painting is the freezing of movement” and “because painting serves an end.”) Painting, of course, is the end product of a sequence of conscious (or not) moves, and it is important to recognize that all of Frize’s work is systematic; sometimes this is completely decipherable, other times it is anything but so.
The 13 paintings in this exhibition fall into four categories that I made up while in the gallery: “rectangular division of brushstroke paintings”; “vanishing point perspective paintings”; “wave paintings”; and “gestural paintings.” While these labels may be debatable, the usefulness of categorization for Frize seems very much not, if only because each classification refers to aspects of process that orient the activity that takes place between the work and a viewer. For example, a “vanishing point” painting like “Dyade” (all works 2012), sets its bands of wide brushstrokes, each made with a succession of colors, in a perspectival structure that inserts an artificial sense of extended movement beyond its perimeter, a movement that could mirror our own if we take the bait and come at the painting from the side. That Frize gave other paintings of this type titles like “Duettino” (not in the exhibition) and “Dyadissa” suggests that the dual capabilities of these movements is far from incidental, although the specificity of these titles suggests a somewhat diversionary tactic.
“Shanten,” for example, one of the “gestural” paintings, seems to have been given a Japanese term as a name, one that describes the number of moves away from “ready” in Mahjong. Given Frize’s interest in games and mathematics the association is solid; moreover, the painting presents itself as a hazy (yet energetic and lazy) mélange of red/yellow/blue brushstrokes that become “ready” on the surface and most “available” to us, a condition seemingly encouraged by Frize’s use of resin that makes it look as if much of the paint is not actually on the canvas while giving his paintings a distinctive “cauterized” look. This effect is particularly effective in the “wave” paintings, each made up of bands that introduce a consistent wave across some or all of their surfaces (without, unlike the “vanishing point” paintings, any indication of dimension) while diversifying the range of colors and the coverage of the paint itself, made even more fugitive, it seems, by the use of resin. “Acapata,” however, is the exception in this category: it wavers only in its middle, creating almost a kind of portrait; it’s monochromatic palette, a faded muddy gray/brown at that, is named after the Sanskrit term for steady. Categories exist to be broken, and with Frize they are also part of his serious play.
The “rectangular division” paintings were the biggest surprise to me in this exhibition, but in the end the least satisfying. Relying upon the grid as a fixed boundary where brushstrokes immediately change color, they just don’t have the peculiar energy of the other paintings.