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  • "This flat surface with not very many possibilities [has] been the place for so many paintings before me and probably so many paintings after me that it’s just amazing because the number of decisions are very reduced. It’s like a game: there are rules and you can’t bypass the rules, but still you can continue to play." —Bernard FrizeFor French contemporary artist Bernard Frize, the painting paints itself. Decidedly process-orientated, Frize’s concern lies not with conveying a personal expression or reaching a visual conclusion. Rather, he paints in a manner governed entirely by the materials themselves, following a predetermined system of rules set in place prior to starting a new series, in order to regulate the compositional process. Stating that ‘one failure provokes the next painting’ i, Frize only considers a series complete once he feels the theory has been exhausted. His rules reject subjectivity and expression, yet, caught between the intriguing plays of light, colour and texture, and within the gestural motions of the brush that make it impossible not to imagine the process happening in real-time, there is a beauty in his paintings that is inescapable.

     

     

    Wir

     

    Executed in 2018, over forty years since he began his devoted experimentations with painting, Wir is a triumph of Frize’s matured style that enchantingly demonstrates the tension between order and disorder that is central to his sophisticated oeuvre. Rendered in acrylic and resin, thick brushstrokes of jewel tones layer the canvas in a complex lattice, leaving no trace as to which mark met the canvas first. Following a carefully choreographed method, the horizontal and vertical strokes interweave across the entirety of the painting, generating a powerful sense of illusionistic depth which is then further enhanced by the remarkable variations of hue present in each stroke alone. Curiously, although the brushwork appears viscous, the acrylic paint and synthetic resin concoction renders the canvas surface almost mechanically flat in a juxtaposition of texture that has become trademark to Frize’s practice.

     

    Whilst the painting’s composition is entirely deliberate, with even variances in pressure, speed and direction being taken into account, the result is also ultimately left to chance. Seeming to contradict the neatly ruled-out gridlines that appear upon closer inspection, drips, bleeding, splatter and other unintentional intrusions disrupt the artist’s highly regimented approach. Fond of the notion of ‘generation and corruption’, whereby something occurs above a system to disorder it, the painterly accidents in Wir further serve as proof of the artist having ceded creative control to the medium itself.

     

    Opting not to Choose

     

    When Bernard Frize was awarded the Käthe Kollwitz Prize in 2015 by the Akademie der Künste, the jury members wrote in their statement, ‘He strives with the utmost sophistication toward the advancement of contemporary painterly abstraction and the development of a topology of painterly gestures and structures’ ii. Though a number of comparisons come to mind when examining Frize’s creative approach, his dedicated exploration into the possibilities of abstraction in new ways have helped him to discover a position in painting that is singular. His technique of applying paint onto a canvas lay flat as opposed to on a wall recalls the working method of esteemed Abstract Expressionist Jackson Pollock. But whereas Pollock wished to convey a certain feeling or create a particular impression with his abstract application of colour, Frize’s methodological technique eradicates every intuitive personal decision from the process.

     

    Jackson Pollock, White Light, 1954. Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York
    Jackson Pollock, White Light, 1954. Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York

    Similarly, Frize’s visually arresting compositions bears similarities to the aesthetic strategies of both Colour Field painting and those of Minimalism, bringing to mind the works of Frank Stella, Kenneth Noland and Morris Louis. Yet Frize’s relationship with colour differs, in the sense that it is ‘completely immaterial to [him]’, as he ‘[doesn’t] worry about colours at all’, instead using colour to ‘name this or that stroke and keep track of it like a subway map’ iii, thus further distancing himself from all subjective choices. 

     

    Frank Stella, Tahkt-I-Sulayman Variation II, 1969. Collection of the Minneapolis
    Frank Stella, Tahkt-I-Sulayman Variation II, 1969. Collection of the Minneapolis Institute of Art 

    As Stella famously stated, ‘what you see is what you see’, which likewise is true of Frize, however as a firm believer in perspective, Frize alternatively asserts ‘a painting is an object hung on the wall waiting for people to come activate it’ iv. One may assume the constraints Frize sets himself are restraining, but his rigorous yet relentlessly experimental approach has proven to be wholly liberating, occupying a unique position within the discourse of abstract art.

     

    Collector’s Digest

     

    Widely celebrated for his contributions to reviving the language of abstraction in his unparalleled exploration of painting’s visual possibilities, Frize has been honoured with numerous exhibitions in key galleries and museums throughout his career, including a retrospective at the Centre Pompidou, Paris, in 2019. In recent years, Frize has also presented solo shows at Galerie Perrotin at their Tokyo, Paris and New York locations (2019), Simon Lee in London (2018), and Girimart Gallery in Istanbul (2018). Frize’s works are also found in numerous public collections, including the Tate Gallery in London, MUMOK in Vienna, Museo Nacional Centro de Reina Sofia in Madrid, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, and the Kunstmuseums in Basel and Zurich, amongst others.

     

    i Bernard Frize, quoted in Emily McDermott, ‘A double bill of Bernard Frize hits all the right notes’, Wallpaper, 4 June 2019, online 
    ii Paul Lister, ‘Bernard Frize at Galerie Perrotin, New York’, White Hot Magazine, May 2016, online
    iii Bernard Frize, quoted in in Olivier Zahm, ‘BERNARD FRIZE: Liquid Politics’, Purple Magazine, 2016, online
    iv Bernard Frize, quoted in Henri Neuendorf, ‘Bernard Frize Wins 2015 Käthe Kollwitz Prize’, Artnet News, 15 December 2014, online 

    • Provenance

      Simon Lee Gallery, London
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      London, Simon Lee Gallery, Bernard Frize: Blackout in the Grid, 17 May - 30 June 2018

16

Wir

2018
signed and dated '2018 Bernard FRIZE' on the overlap; further titled '"Wir"' on the stretcher
acrylic and resin on canvas
250.2 x 215.2 cm. (98 1/2 x 84 3/4 in.)
Executed in 2018.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
HK$1,000,000 - 2,000,000 
€108,000-217,000
$128,000-256,000

Sold for HK$2,142,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction

Hong Kong Auction 3 December 2020