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Bernard Frize

Art as Creation: The Colorful World of Bernard Frize


Photography ROMAN MÄRZ

French painter Bernard Frize’s wildly explorative paintings have graced the walls of homes and galleries worldwide, including the Tate Gallery in London 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 extent. 

Bernard Frize at his Berlin studio. Photo by Roman März

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. The second thing is art is an object recognized 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 stayed the same 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 the creation made through causes or iteration. I always considered “generation and corruption” as a little engine. One is fed up and exhausted by the other, but the exhaustion of one is making the other turn around. 


P: For you, painting is a way of exploring and embodying ideas so they can be seen and shared. Have you always thought this way, or were there moments that changed your viewpoint?

BF: I have always been interested in art. I come from a generation in Europe where ‘Fluxus’’ was very influential, and Fluxus was a movement coming after other movements. All these movements are coming 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 resulted from 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 began the ‘Happening’ movement. So, I think all of this also had its origins in Fluxus. Art is often a movement that comes and goes through countries through people, and there are misunderstandings. But this understanding has to create new things. For me, the painting was something I liked; I enjoyed looking at a painting, but I thought painting should not necessarily be the depiction of an image or a process as direct as Jackson Pollack would do. French artists influenced me more from the 19th century, who were much more intellectual. But always exploring ideas and embodying them was immortal for me. 

"Niche", 2019. 94 1/2 x 94 1/2 inch. Courtesy of the artist & Perrotin.
Haoh, 2018. 70 7/8 x 86 5/8 inch. Courtesy of the artist & Perrotin

P: You humorously described your most successful works as requiring minimal intervention. Can you explain why it required minimal intervention? 

BF: When you speak about your work, it is not necessarily what happens at the studio but how you look at it from the present to the past. So, you don’t remember all the processes and the difficulties you had. You think, ‘This was easy and nice.’ I think I was describing the painting I did similarly to Chinese painting, which was easy, and required minimal intervention. But it is a long process, which led me to this solution. Even if it takes 5 minutes to create a work, it comes from a very long journey into the painting process. So what is successful is only the fact that making was quick. 


P: Many artists need help engaging with another type of public and bringing the work outside of their world to the viewer’s world. Do you feel the same, and if so, how do you manage that? 

BF: First, the difference between a painting in a studio and a painting in public viewing – private becomes public. Each painting has led me to another one I’m working on and is no longer active. I often say that a painting should be looked at several times and not be depleted after the first glance. I’m looking for a complexity that could be delivered simply. So, I spend a lot of time trying to simplify my ideas and how I present them. This is the difference between presentation and representation. So, I think this difference between the two is something I work on in my studio but is not active outside. Because it’s about presentation for the public, but when you look at my paintings, they deal with representation. 

 I don’t think that painting is addressed to anyone. One must deserve it; one must work on it to enjoy it. I believe painting is mute; it doesn’t speak. The painting is waiting for the public to activate it. So, I don’t have to engage it; the public has to if they want.


P: You are drawn to things and not heavily attracted by other subjects. However, your so-called ‘meaningless’ artworks influenced many viewers, having many meanings and drawing inspiration from many individuals. Do you feel pressured by this gaze, and even though you have been doing art for many decades, does it still feel surreal?

BF: I have no idea. Painting and art, in general, is a discussions between people. They don’t need to know each other to engage in this discussion. I have no idea who is interested in my work, but I know whose work interests me. I have had a secret conversation with artists from the past, and this conversation feeds my work. If some people like my work, they also have a private conversation with me. 

P: Gilles Deleuze said it is dangerous to occupy territory because the moment you believe in the power and, by extension, that you have control, your work becomes uninteresting. You have previously mentioned a similar statement about your work as well. Can you comment more on this? 

BF: Yes, for sure. When you define a territory and make walls to create a border, you are not experimenting with anything anymore. You are adjusting to merchandising or whatever. And this was never my concern. Art and painting are ways to explore the world and experiment. I’m not interested in branding a company and branding an activity. 


P: What’s the fascinating moment when you paint? Is it the idea that came to you before you painted, the first brushstroke, or looking at the final result?

BF: The most fascinating thing for me is the design of the painting to happen. In each moment you mentioned, I cannot cut different parts from one another. It’s a war. When the painting happens, it results from the excitement of all of these moments.


P: What does the term ‘present’ mean for you?

BF: Time is visible to all of its extents. For me, there’s no past, present, or future. I don’t find time as an arrow directed to the future. Very much from the past, I learned from it, so I try to bring it to the present. The future is just a matter of time. These notions are very confusing; I don’t see them. I want to ask you about ‘presence.’ Is it something you fear? Or do you want to be already in the future? 


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 am interested 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 I want to study. At the moment, I am learning about art and craft, this [inaudible] movement that advocates for social reform, anti-industrialism, and 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. The locals of Taiwan have also influenced me. 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 ability to transform that into my painting. It’s difficult to describe what makes you do this or that mechanically.  


P: Artists are unique because their work will last with us forever, even without their presence and existence. Everything has an end, whether it’s expected or not. So, when that particular time comes to you, what series of work would you do? Would it still be a painting, or would you picture yourself projecting your voice with different mediums?

BF: This is a complicated question to answer. I often think about Matisse. Matisse was terrible at one moment, but when he was old, he could release his art practice at the end of his life. I only know a few artists who have been freed to do so; I wonder if I will be released to do so as well. You can’t force things. Things have to happen. There’s not much I can do to change anything. But painting still interests me, and I hope to find answers through it. 

This story is from Issue Two.