Bernard Frize

Year and place of birth: 1954, Saint-Mandé, France Location: Paris, France and Berlin, Germany

Bernard Frize abandoned his training as a painter in May 1968 after realising that making art was irreconcilable with his political militantism. He worked for other artists in a Parisian screen-printing studio from 1970 to 1976 and, around this time, invented a form of painting that was neither subjective nor expressive. Believing that revolution would come from the working classes, he had the same relationship to painting as workers to their manufactured goods. France lagged behind the international avant-garde in the 1960s and 70s, which was taking off elsewhere in the world.

Lacking a context at home, Frize travelled around Europe to keep abreast of current events. He developed an interest in Fluxus, Robert Filliou, conceptual and American art, amongst other things. Meanwhile, he explored the minimum conditions necessary for discussing a painting. His own paintings depicted nothing but themselves and the techniques involved in their making. Frize’s early canvases make it abundantly clear that these are labour-intensive creations. Using the narrowest brush he could find, Frize covered 1 m² canvases with dashes. The intention is evident and Frize executes the work without further personal involvement.

Frize departs from self-imposed precepts for each of his paintings. The chalk lines absolve him of any further worries or decisions about the progress of the work. In this sense, his oeuvre could be categorised as conceptual art, but in Frize’s view, the latter is too deeply rooted in language to apply to his paintings. In the 1980s, he covered a series of canvases with skins of dried paint that he plucked from tins exposed to the air. He did something similar in the 1990s, this time using skins of dried paint taken from trays into which he had poured several unmixed colours. Due to differences in their relative weights, certain shades sank to the bottom.

Frize always varies his creative protocols. The rules stem from calculations derived from, amongst other things, mathematics and the potential of the materials in question, such as line, support, canvas, surface, paint, colour, brush or paint roller and gesture. Frize consistently emphasises that painting is physical labour. He applies a smooth layer of resin to the canvas before dispersing a thin layer of paint across it, always in a single gesture and without reloading the brush. When the paint trail stops, so does the artist. The result prevents us from getting lost in the matter of paint and canvas, and challenges us to consider how the gestures have been executed.

In the spirit of the 1960s, Frize realised paintings with more complex actions involving a team of people working in tandem. The gestures on these canvases could only be painted by more than one pair of hands. In this instance, he directed and synchronised the action. Frize demystifies the act of painting and the place of the artist, but encourages our role as viewers, without whom, in his eyes, paintings are nothing but meaningless objects.

Works Bernard Frize

Become a Friend of S.M.A.K.
made by