THE ENSEMBLE OF VISUAL, TACTILE, AND AUDITORY SENSES: 45 YEARS OF BERNARD FRIZE
Bernard Frize is a representative artist of French contemporary painting. He has been presenting his own unique conceptual abstract paintings for 45 years, and now it is no exaggeration to call him a master whose artistic practice has truly reached perfection. His major retrospective Bernard Frize: Sans Repentir, held at the Centre Pompidou in Paris in 2019, reveals his achievement objectively. The exhibition, which presented 60 some select paintings spanning his career, including early works from 1977 to most recent works then, made in 2019, demonstrated what a rich plateau Frize’s spectrum and sense of painting created in contemporary art. Viewers who encountered Frize’s works at the Pompidou exhibition must have marveled at the fact that the challenging and loaded concept of abstraction was delivered not through philosophical language but through canvases filled with brilliant colors and dynamic brushwork. You must have been surprised once again by how various styles and delicate yet dynamic expressions can be diversified and developed within the genre of abstract painting, a field of contemporary art we are familiar with.
A more exciting experience of Frize’s art, however, lies ahead of us in 2022, as we will see different aesthetics, forms, and modes of expression in the new works by this master of contemporary painting now in his 70s. I assure you that Frize, who has devoted more than half of his life to creative experiments and journey of exploration, presents even more complex sensorial paintings to the world this time around. Paradoxically, we will find a very young and attractive Frize through his new works; the artist certainly is Frize but he is not. The former Frize is a painter who intentionally set aside his opinion as an artist and mechanically repeated the act of painting with the work protocol that “rules can set you free.” The elderly artist completed his unique style of abstract painting where the intersections of the vertical and the horizontal and traces of regular brushstrokes became both the form and content of painting through such practice. Yet the new Frize—or Frize of 2022 who painted new works—returned, having abandoned even the artistic achievements and the signature look of his paintings that he established over decades as if they are trivial elements of his work and practice. Or to be more dramatic, his current paintings appear as though they are creations of a young and free spirit who hops on the canvas, explodes energy, and becomes a particle in the air, dancing. Through my metaphoric expression above, one could imagine just how creative Frize’s new abstract series is.
What are these paintings like that I write with passion, despite there being the risk that people may ridicule my text as a critic’s exaggeration? First, unstructured and organic images resulting from random access appear over the pattern of straight, mechanical, and repetitive brush- strokes, which is a signature element of Frize’s abstract paintings. Bands and brushstrokes of acrylic paint in almost transparent, clear hues lay down a vertical background, and colors of blue, red, green, and yellow react chemically with the acrylic media, creating a unique and unintended image. So Frize’s Silus and Apa (2022) simultaneously delight our eyes and ears like when we are fascinated by fireworks in the night sky that make explosive sounds and colorful light. We are surely seeing the paintings, yet it feels as though we hear the bang of brilliant colors bursting over the vertical stripes. It also feels like we hear the big and small pigment particles blending with resin and spreading out in all directions on the canvas like waves. And what about our perceptions when we see Ader, Sabo, and Kova (2022)? Our tactile senses are stimulated just like when we see a goldfish slowly swimming through clear and cold water, with its splendid fins all spread out. It is like perceiving the temperature of the water and the gentle movement of the fish’s smooth body touching our skin.
In brief, I would like remark that Frize’s most recent paintings opened up a new dimension of abstract paintings where visual, tactile, and auditory senses create an ensemble. Moreover, I want to claim that Frize further expanded the aesthetics of his abstract painting by deconstructing the grid structure and linear order that held up his paintings and replacing them with organic forms created by coincidence and spontaneity. The movement of beautiful organisms and natural order preceding geometry were being newly minted on this both masterly yet very young artist’s canvas.
This is my third time writing a critique on Frize’s paintings, following one in 2014 and another in 2017. Even so, I am sensually surprised and intellectually intrigued by his new works every time. Every moment of my thinking and writing with the language of aesthetics that would correspond to Frize’s abstract painting is pleasant. When I saw his newest paintings this time, it especially felt as though my eyes became wide open and the occipital lobe was aroused. And I became certain that Frize’s new painting experiment that we must draw attention to are the possibilities of not only the visual senses but also those of touch and sound being stimulated at the same time. In that vein, I would like to offer a special advice to you who will soon see Frize’s abstract paintings: liberate yourself from the stereotypical idea that you see paintings. If you can free yourself from that bias, you will discover a greater world of paintings and come to see a plateau of aesthetics where your senses flutter with a stronger pulse and can exhale a deeper and richer breath. Of course this is not easy, as having a fixed idea is not merely the result of rigid thinking but also that of bias where preference and senses are skewed in a particular way. This is why the phrases “seeing is believing” and its opposite “believing is seeing” are both true. Art is, however, almost the only domain in which we can be liberated from cliches that are so hard to break away from. That has been the fundamental driver behind Frize’s abstract paintings for over 40 years and also the mechanism that allowed his artistic practice to be an exploration in a field of new creation every time.
– Sumi Kang
(Aesthetician, Art Critic, and Dongduk Women’s University Professor)
Prof. Dr. Sumi Kang (born 1969) is an art critic and aesthetician based in Seoul. She is an associate professor of art theory at Dongduk Women’s University in Seoul. She is also a specialist in the work of Walter Benjamin, contemporary art, art criticism, media aesthetics and public art. Her publications include: Porous Art: Performative Communication Structure and Its Social Networking of Korean Contemporary Art (2020), Post-Creator: Contemporary Art, Old and Now (2019), Ticklish Object: Korean Contemporary Art since 2000 (2017), The Art of Criticism (2013), Aisthēsis: Thinking with Walter Benjamin’s Aesthetics (2011). She is a Fulbright Mid-Career Research Grantee.
Views of Bernard Frize’s exhibition ‘Les dernières peintures’ at Perrotin Séoul, 2022. Photo: Andy H. Jung. Courtesy of the artist and Perrotin