Perrotin is pleased to present Comment puis-je te dire… (How To Tell You…), a solo exhibition by Bernard Frize at 2bis avenue Matignon. This new paintings reflect Frize’s complex and ever-evolving relationship to paint, the act of painting and what it means to be a painter.
There is a vast art-historical gulf between painting destruction and destroying painting. On one side we can count such harrowing representational works as Théodore Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa (1819); on the other, physically distressed canvases like Lucio Fontana’s “Cuts” (1958–68). Offering an unexpected bridge between these two metaphorical shores, Bernard Frize’s latest paintings are mesmerizing evocations—both pictorially and physically speaking—of destruction.
The paintings presented in How to tell you… (all 2022) are neither narrative nor mutilated, but they owe their creation, in large part, to a kind of sanctioned degeneration. Unruly paint has been allowed to bleed over the artist’s own brushwork, complicating systematic strokes with smudges, swathes and stains whose amorphous hazy forms that suggest various celestial bodies. Managing to appear simultaneously vibrant and on the brink of ruin, the twelve paintings presented at Perrotin’s Matignon gallery reflect Frize’s complex and ever-evolving relationship to paint, the act of painting and what it means to be a painter.
For more than forty years, Frize has worked in series, producing suites of large, colorful canvases under strict predetermined conditions designed to exclude self-expression from his painting practice. The specific nature of Frize’s protocols change from one series to the next, but the underlying concept is always the same. Previous examples of self-imposed modus operandi include making a painting without reloading the brush and following someone else’s instructions for how to move the paintbrush.
Each series represents a new attempt by Frize to undermine the artist’s traditional role as a decision-maker (to this end, even the titles of his works are automatically generated and assigned) and a virtuoso. Put off by notions of mastery, Frize has made a career out of inventing ways to enlist paint, brush and canvas as his collaborators. The result is a diverse oeuvre of systematically produced series in which happy accidents—drips, pools, swirls and wrinkles of paint, for example—sanctify each painting. In How to tell you…, the effects of allowing paint to do what it will are both more explicit and more exquisite than ever before.
In Frize’s previous works, scenarios wherein paint acts (or reacts) on its own terms have yielded relatively subtle results: an errant dark streak made by two overlapping colors, a few drips left behind by a watery stroke, or some added texture on the surface caused by a slightly overloaded brush, for example. In the current exhibition, by contrast, these types of unpredictable and uncontrollable paint “happenings” take center stage. As with prior series, the artist began his latest paintings with a thick brush dipped into his signature blend of acrylic paint and resin. Putting brush to canvas he filled each composition with abutting strokes that establish an all-over rainbow of lucent jewel tones. In each final painting, this standard backdrop is interrupted—in many cases effectively erased—by forms that are not “painted” per se, but, rather, borne from meandrous pools, drips, seepages and absorptions of paint.
Like an automated self-referential version of Robert Rauschenberg’s Erased de Kooning Drawing (1953), the works in How to tell you… invoke destruction as a key creative gesture. But whereas Rauschenberg did the erasing of de Kooning’s work himself, Frize lets paint wipe away his own strokes. The proverbial “artist’s touch” has been replaced with unanticipated amorphous forms, which register simultaneously as stains or smudges, but also as evocations of cosmic activity.
"The subject of my work is not to create processes and rules – they are just ways of doing my work or fueling my desire to work. Painting is a way of exploring ideas and embodying them, so that they can be seen and shared."
In Lonea, for example, a dark pool of blended colors has formed at the center of the composition on top of a striated multicolor background. Giving the impression of centrifugal force, this central form appears to attract muddied swells of paint from the top and bottom of the canvas like a blackhole. Isit, meanwhile, suggests the immediate aftermath of a supernova. Here the artist’s brushwork is barely visible, having been all but entirely replaced by marbleized swirls of pale colors around the edges of the composition. At the center, a hazy gray cloud bears electric crackles of pale yellow. In addition to providing a poetic visual reference, the comparison of Frize’s latest paintings to celestial implosions and explosions relates to the very process by which these works came to be. Embodying a precarious intersection of creation and destruction, How to tell you… confirms an inextricable link between two ostensibly opposing forces.
— Mara Hoberman
Born in 1949 in Saint-Mandé, France
Lives and works in Berlin, Germany
Bernard Frize’s abstract painting is decisively process-oriented. Working in series, he explores all the possible visual outcomes of precise protocols, which he conceives beforehand. These preestablished conditions and constraints usually pertain to the use of conventional tools and materials as well as the almost mechanical execution of seemingly simple gestures. While each series records the peculiar dynamics of a predetermined technique, his vibrant abstractions also serve as arenas for chance to operate. By outsourcing some of his creative power to contingency (starting with his highly distinctive yet random color palette), he allows for painterly events or disruptions to unfold on his canvases. At once calculated and random, conceptual and organic, his aesthetics portends an automatic ideal of painting. Frize humorously describes his most successful works as those that required minimal intervention on his part, and thus realized themselves to some extent autonomously.