Tuesday, 20 November 2007



The paintings of Bernard Frize use line in abstractions that allow surprising complexity in terms of colour, facture, width and intersection. They stretch the definition of line. For advocates of pure abstraction, Frize’s work is interesting for the way it resists both the trend to expand technique along other avenues as well (see also Post 10) and to compromise on level of abstraction (see also Posts 14, 24 and 53). This approach to line prompts comparison with the work of Brice Marden and Jonathan Lasker, although the Frenchman’s stricter compositions seem cautious by their standards, less compelling as an extension to colour. This is because French Minimalism, largely through the Support/Surface Group, inclines the painter less to the details of repeating or related motifs, as in Lasker, less to auxiliary properties to colour, as in Marden. Instead it concentrates on pattern applied to various supports and conditions; to means that steadily loosen or revise the end, to pattern dispersed by relaxed application.

In this respect, it is easy to see why Frize is attracted to gestural qualities to line, to additional aspects revealed in the task of applying pattern to a given surface. Yet Frize’s development is not quite a smooth progression from Support/Surface tenets. While an early work such as Suite Segond (1980) shows him committed to abstraction, with a distribution of circles resulting in coinciding shapes/colours through overlap and juxtaposition; following works such as Still Life with Delft Vase (1983) abruptly switch to the figurative. This change presumably allows line now as either background or outline, while tone or shape remains distinct from either. In effect, it separates functions for line, aspects to the motif. Still Life with Tureen (1983) narrows the focus to just outline, but crucially allows shifts in intensity of colour, in width and resolution or ‘bleeding’ of line, so that the course or direction of line takes on greater prominence, begins to demonstrate the means of inscription, beyond any consistent outline for tureen.

With this focus upon line in place, Frize returns to abstraction (sadly there are few examples on the web for this period). Works such as Eixen (1992) then concentrate on lines generated by a peculiar device, perhaps only multiple brushes in the hand, allowing parallel lines of various colours to be applied simultaneously. The curves and angles available through this device or technique then reduce or enlarge line widths accordingly, creating an illusion of depth, or of ridges and hollows to the planes. The technique effectively reduces the picture to just lines, strictly parallels, gives each a colour, measures shape and variation by application. The result is ingenious and attractive, but parallels then suggest less certain combinations available to the device, propose other devices or applications.

In Alternante (1999) Frize takes a simpler approach to parallels, a wider variety of colours. The effect is far more Minimalist, although actually each horizontal line has three colours, each colour varies in weight or width and consistency, each intersection combines colours, supplies vertical parallels. The pattern is deceptively complex, and while still only parallel lines; lines gain surprising latitude in other respects. The project progressively supplies these additional qualities to line measured against patterns or structures, where parallel lines are less prominent. In Portable VVX (2000) a kind of interlacing combines multiple colours to a single ‘stroke’ again, together with single colour ‘strokes’, both of varying strengths, sometimes literally overlapping, elsewhere abutting or intersecting. As a result the interlacing all but collapses, as individual strands as colours or ‘strokes’ struggle for consistency. This balance between pattern and additional qualities to line, give the work an odd oscillation between relaxation and rigour, ingenuity and accident.

Increasingly Frize alternates between stricter pattern and more informal or complex versions; can allow line more space or compress it to unitary blocks that then trade mainly on colour variation. In the recent show at Simon Lee, in London four strategies are used. Lines are granted degrees of colour, yet remain strict in width, curve and length, secondly lines are granted intervals of colour that conform to strict pattern, in departing from grey, yet present no consistent colour beyond this. Thirdly Lines are restricted to straight lines, uniform width, are allowed extended intersections with other colours, so that overlap and change of direction are often shared or blurred. Finally there are sprayed lines that blur edges and colours, but these are the slightest variation. Finally, Frize sustains abstraction by this expanded view of line, but is perhaps obscured a little by reliance on familiar pattern.

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