Bernard Frize - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale London Wednesday, June 29, 2022 | Phillips

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  • 'I conceive a painting as an integral performance. It incorporates this integrity in its form. The “load” of paint is used up on the canvas right up to the point where the trace of loaded paint begins again.' —Bernard FrizeWeaving a chromatic tapestry of lattice‐like brushstrokes, Bernard Frize’s Niche is a masterwork of his contemporary style. Fascinated by painting as a process, the French artist sought to reduce painting in its purest form. Frize goes against the grain of the canon of art history, focusing on materiality and the process of painting rather than narrative. Born in 1949 in Saint‐Mandé, France, Bernard Frize lives and works in Paris and Berlin. In the mid‐1970s Frize began solely focusing on medium, redefining its traditional use he began to view painting as a physical act.


    Painted in 2019, Frize’s trellised composition in Niche appears simultaneously controlled and free-flowing, experimental and regimented. Methodical in his practice, disparities in the velocity and pressure of Frize’s brush are accounted for, leading to the seamless impression of horizontal and vertical interwoven threads across the surface of the painting.  His works are a triumph in their contradiction; while disciplined in practice, the works are also serendipitous masterpieces, and within Niche, chance intrusions such as bleeds and splatters disrupt the artist’s disciplined surface of brush strokes. These surface blemishes for Frize merely solidify his dedication to the medium, demonstrating the autonomy of the paint itself and tracing his gestural practice.


    Free of narrative and flowing in movement and colour, Niche exemplifies Frize’s practice without intuition and personal decisions. Frize professes to be liberated by protocols and systems which govern his practice: The artist is merely a tool, akin to his brushes and the canvas. Working almost mechanically, Frize sets predetermined rules before commencing work on a series. Each work produced is informed by its predecessor, with a series only reaching its completion once a painting can no longer generate any other ideas. The artist’s admission that ‘one failure provokes the next painting’i leads to the palpable continuation between each of his works and series. Bernard Frize’s methods and processes, schemes and colour combinations advance and inspire his oeuvre to both innovate and progress, for Frize these constraints only lead to more freedom.


    Barnett Newman, The Beginning, 1946, The Art Institute of Chicago. Image: © Art Institute of Chicago / Through prior gift of Mr. and Mrs. Carter H. Harrison / Bridgeman Images, Artwork: © ARS, NY and DACS, London 2022

    Bernard Frize’s painterly approach has been aligned with several masters of the twentieth century, yet his explorations and process are singular and unique.  Frize’s visually stimulating compositions echo those of the Colour-Field painters such as Barnett Newman, while his technique of working on a flat surface is reminiscent of preeminent abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock. However, while Pollock seeks to manifest emotion and expression, and Colour Field painters sought spirituality and meaning in their colours and materials, Frize’s practice aims to irradicate the emotional and instinctual, working ‘in a way that avoids decisions about colour,’ii merely seeing it as a way of tracking his brushstrokes.


    In 2019 Bernard Frize’s oeuvre was the subject of a mid-career retrospective, Bernard Frize, Without Remorse at Centre Pompidou. Frize’s works are included in more than 45 public collections around the world, including the Tate Gallery, London; Centre Pompidou, Paris; MUMOK, Vienna; Museo Nacional Centro de Reina Sofia, Madrid; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; and the Kunstmuseums in Basel and Zurich, amongst others.

    i Emily McDermott, ‘A double bill of Bernard Frize hits all the right notes,’ Wallpaper*, 4 June 2019, online
    ii Bernard Frize, quoted in in Olivier Zahm, ‘BERNARD FRIZE: Liquid Politics,’ Purple Magazine, 2016, online

    • Provenance

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



signed, titled, numbered and dated '2019 003 Niche Bernard FRIZE' on the reverse; titled, numbered and dated 'NICHE 2019 003' on the stretcher
oil on canvas
240.4 x 240.5 cm (94 5/8 x 94 5/8 in.)
Painted in 2019.

Full Cataloguing

£100,000 - 150,000 

Sold for £151,200

Contact Specialist

Simon Tovey

Specialist, Associate Director, Head of Day Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art
+44 20 7318 4084

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale

London Auction 29 June 2022