On the Side where there is no Handrail. "All these canvases ask the same question in different ways. A general, almost existential kind of question. I could sum it up as follows: is there a form of continuity in the world?"
Interview of Bernard Frize by Léa Chauvel-Lévy in July 2013:
Léa Chauvel-Lévy: When you started “Suite Segond” (1980), you used dried skin from the surface of paint pots that had been left open. What were you looking for in this kind of recycling? Was it an act of withdrawal, of self-effacement in relation to painting?
Bernard Frize: When an artist has to answer questions, it’s most often implied that there’s some definite motivation behind his ideas. In fact there are sometimes things I do for no apparent reason, and which are justified retrospectively. But to come back to your question, when I made the “Suite Segond” pieces, I was actually working on other paintings. The first of the “Suite Segond” pictures was the outcome of thoughtlessness. When I took the dried film off the surface of the pots and put it on a nearby canvas, I wasn’t looking for anything at all. What I found in “Suite Segond” was what I was looking for in those paintings I was actually working on. When they were finished and shown, the critical reception ranged from indifferent to pretty negative. After a while I stopped liking them myself: I found them too close to New Realist accumulations, even though that was a frame of reference I could have made no claim to. At the same time I learned a lot from those paintings, which helped me think about problems of topology and signification that were useful for my work later on. The remark made to me by Marcel Lefranc, who was César’s agent back then—”Why stick bits of plastic on a canvas?”—got me thinking about the presentation of paint as substance. I thought his comment was idiotic, but I made something useful out of it. As for an act of withdrawal or self-effacement, I can’t answer that. One thing for sure, though: I’m not an Expressionist painter—negotiating with my ideas interests me more than negotiating with my inner self.
Your early work with a liner brush in 1976 signaled a modest attitude on the painter’s part. Have you changed at all in regard to this pessimism about the status of art?
I don’t see it as pessimism. It’s very hard to talk about things outside of their context... Everything was so ideological in France at the time. If you were making paintings, you could only make monochromes. With those paintings I returned to an art activity I’d given up eight years before and I was getting back to the basics. The liner is the thinnest brush there is and using it means you’re really into activity, into work. To fill your canvas you have to do an enormous amount of painting. Back then painting as an activity was like actually being a worker. The need to express something had become strictly secondary: the work came first. As for the modest at- titude, I’ve no judgment to make. I saw painting as an activity and thought it should be stimulated by thinking about the work process. That way I found the possibility of being politically present in my painting, of bridging the gap between a socio-political line of thought and an artistic practice—or, rather, of resolving the conflict between my political ideas and my artistic activity. But maybe this is pure fiction, just me telling myself stories in search of a kind of harmony.
Can you explain why it’s so essential for you to function within a frame- work, a predetermined structure?
I think that every operation carried out calls for fixed points in which there is agreement between words and things. Between people and speaker. Between the painting and the spectator. Between the paint objects and me, the person putting the paint on. It’s a matter of determining the field of action. To be specific, when I was talking about Marcel Lefranc’s sniping remark, I think that I hadn’t sufficiently committed myself to the framework of the “Suite Segond” series. Otherwise the naming issue would never have arisen. I had to find a material solution to the definition of the objects. “Suite Segond” is a series that stimulated me to define a framework for my work—I mention it as an example of the need for structure. Right now I think it’s the consistency of the elements of my painting that creates the structure. All the elements you see on the canvas: line, colors, brushmarks—all of that has to be rigorously constructed and defined if I’m to achieve operative dialogue with a medium in which everything has a function. I don’t see this position as close to Greenberg’s defense of the specificity of the medium. My concerns are with the legibility of the ideas. When I make a painting, I try to eliminate everything superfluous; this isn’t done in advance, but in the course of the work. If you could simply state ideas, there would be no need to paint a picture. I don’t see how purely “conceptual” art might be free of its media; or else, in freeing itself from the medium, how it could avoid being sucked into advertising, the topical, and jokey spectacle. I don’t see it as old-fashioned to consider the relationship between what’s inside a substance as historically charged as paint, and to do so after the preceding generations of conceptual artists have provided new tools. But have we looked closely enough at the painters of the past and realized that if painting gets made with a substance that has remained unchanged for years, the ideas it’s dealing with vary according to different periods, and endlessly challenge the material they’re made of?
Your recent works shown at Galerie Perrotin seem to be of two kinds: those made of lines and those made of areas.
Yes, and both sorts involve separation and unity. All these canvases ask the same question in different ways. A general, almost existential kind of ques- tion. I could sum it up as follows: is there a form of continuity in the world? Technically speaking there’s no before and no afterwards: the continuity of the brushmarks is imitated from one colored area to another. People looking at these pictures wonder—I imagine—how one color can become another. I try to formulate answers, but this remains a work in progress. For “Gliale” and “Nelio” I simply chose nine different colors. the brushstrokes running over the canvas change color, but are also seen as crossing the canvas autonomously. You could compare these pictures to two discourses being heard at the same time. If you’re able to describe these canvases, my work won’t seem strange to you. And anybody could do exactly the same as me. I just went looking for the way the colored areas would stop. In the first pictures in the series I used straight-edged masking tape, but then I opted for a specially made serrated tape.
Why was that?
To put the emphasis on speed. What interests me is the way the eye rushes from one boundary to another, from one area to another. When it’s halted by a straight line it focuses less on continuity. With the serrated tape the brush marks are much clearer and more supple. This is a technical improvement aimed at finding the path towards clarity. Finding one’s path through an exhibition is also finding one’s path through each painting.
So might this continuity be the guiding strand of your recent canvases? Firstly, I have the impression that I always paint the same picture. That way lots of my earlier pictures are reborn in different forms. There’s also continuity in that I return to a earlier motif in these two open-ended series. Then there’s also a kinship between these canvases: they look different but they inform each other mutually. Pictures like “Seplia” and “Polji” (and also “Ploria”, “Semploi”), both use the same structure to suggest a cross- section, but the paint material is different. In the one painted in oils you see a meandering gradation that occupies the canvas, but the overall drawing remains the same as in the other one. A number of my recent pictures have this wild-eyed look, and that’s probably where my work is at today: finding a direction in the depths of the absence of certainty.
Bernard Frize was born in Saint-Mandé, France. He lives and works between Paris and Berlin
Image: Penta, 2013, Acrylic and resin on canvas, 160 x 140,5 cm / 63 x 55 1/4 inches
Cohn & Wolfe-impactasia
Louise Oram / Shirley Hon / Joanna Lam
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Galerie Perrotin, Hong Kong
Alix Ponchon firstname.lastname@example.org / +852 3758 2180
A media preview and talk with the artist will be taking place on Thursday 29 August from 3pm to 4pm
Opening cocktail on Thursday 29 August 2013 from 6pm to 8pm.
50 Connaught Road Central, 17th Floor Hong Kong
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