French painter Bernard Frize’s wildly explorative paintings have graced the walls of museums and galleries worldwide, including the Perrotin Gallery in Paris and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. Yet four decades into his career, Bernard is still finding new ways to create. We talked to the well-traveled artist behind some of the world’s most prolific abstract paintings about what role the audience plays in art, and how time is visible in all of its extents.
Plus: What did art mean to you during the different phases of your life, and how would you define your paintings?
Bernard Frize: For me, art is an activity. The product of this activity is the idea that one has about it. A result for attention. But this activity has no practical function. Second thing is art is an object recognized as such by a group. This is why this recognition by a group makes it political. This is the definition of what art could be. And now, for different phases in my art and what defines my painting, I am interested in what constitutes a painting and this interest has not changed from the beginning of my career.
P: You said what is specific to your work are these two words, “generation and corruption”. Can you elaborate more on these two terms?
BF: I did not invent these two terms. The title by Aristotle, ‘Coming to be and passing away’ describes either the creation made through causes or iteration. I always considered “generation and corruption” as a little engine. One fed up and exhausted the other but the exhaustion of one is making the other turn around.
P: For you, painting is a way of exploring ideas and embodying them, so that they can be seen and shared. Have you always thought this way or were there moments that changed your view point?
BF: I have always been interested in art. I come from a generation where in Europe, ‘Fluxus’’ was very influential and Fluxus was a movement coming after other movements. All these movements are coming in away from Jackson Pollack. And from the misunderstanding of (painting by) Jackson Pollock. There was this article in life showing the photos of Pollock’s painting captured by Namuth and this life was very popular and it traveled to Japan. In Japan, the artist did not understand anything but they thought that painting was the result of an action, a happening. They started to do that as a form of art and this form of art came back to America and – at the end of Allan Kaparow, who started the ‘Happening’ movement. So, I think that all of this had its origins from Fluxus as well. Art is often a movement which comes and goes through countries, through people and there are misunderstandings. But this understanding has to create new things. For me painting was something I liked; I really enjoyed looking at a painting but I thought painting should not be necessarily the depiction of an image, or a process as direct as Jackson Pollack would do. I was more influenced by French artists from the 19th century who were much more intellectual in a way. But always exploring ideas and embodying them was immortal for me.
P: You have lived and worked in Paris and Berlin. Besides European influences and cultures, are there other cultures you had in mind that you would like to explore?
BF: Well, first of all there are still a lot of countries and cultures in Europe that are ignored, and I spend a lot of time in Asia, but I never spend time in central or south Africa. I have an interest in textiles which made me meet many different cultures from different geographical origins. So, I’m sure it could be interesting to explore that. But for now, it’s difficult to name just one culture that I would like to explore at this moment. At the moment I am learning about art and craft, this [inaudible] movement that advocates for social reform, anti-industrialism, and what is the place of art in goods. Or what was the human relation to commodities. In a way this is far from painting, it’s just close to art, but it’s more influential than anything else. I’ve been influenced also by the aborigines of Taiwan. I’ve been traveling there often and collecting objects. I don’t think that my work is the result of any additions, or any direct influence, it’s the result of my curiosity and my ability to transform that into my painting. It’s difficult to mechanically describe what makes you do this or that.