“Ideas take improbable paths … and I am sometimes amazed myself by their own logic”
Interview by Frédéric Caillard – October 2019
Your latest exhibition – at Perrotin in New York City – is titled Journey in Autumn. You show two paintings (a large one called Erin and a smaller format – see picture below) with a darker palette and a composition that is freed from the strict framework of the grid which is typically found in your work. How did these paintings occur?
They developed as the logical continuation of the paintings I have been doing for a long time now, where the color passes through forms, where brushstrokes are not interrupted and seem to go around the canvas as if it was a screen. I started these paintings around 1984, and sporadically, I found new possibilities to bring them to life. That’s the last way.
The title of the exhibition seems to be directly related to these two works, in which one can see autumn leaves pile up without any pre-existing pattern. Direct links between the titles and the visual content of the paintings have been quite rare in your work for the last twenty years. I can think of Suisse or Diamant in 2005 and of Eclats or Fracassée in 2001 that drew clear links with reality. How did you choose this title, Journey in Autumn?
An exhibition title may only have a very remote relationship to the paintings; after all, I do not write books nor poems. I do not like to see my work as abstract or formal because it would miss out on what I’m doing. On the other hand, considering only “figurative” relationships between my paintings and their title would also be a mistake. The title of the show simply describes my trip to New York for this exhibition.
Exhaustion is a central motif in your work. Your colors run out in the length and in the duration of the stretched brushstrokes. The systems you design to create your paintings are initially strong and uncompromising, but they weaken when exposed to the reality of the production and of the perception of the works. There is a great lesson of relativity and a dose of self-mockery in your approach. Visually, the exhaustion is symbolized by the devitalization of your colors, which often end-up in dull green or brown shades. These two new paintings are captivating. One could posit that they represent the horizon towards which your work has been tending for years, with the darkening of colors and the apparent discarding of a system of structured composition. It is like if you gave-up trying and skipped the exhaustion process to go straight to the final exhausted state…
…I hope not !
May I quote Deleuze on Beckett: “The form of the ritornello is the series, which no longer applies to objects to combine, but only to paths with no objects. The series has an order, according to which it grows and retracts, regrows and declines, based on the appearance and on the disappearance of the characters at the four corners of the square: it is a canon. It has a continuous course that follows the sequence of the segments that are traveled along, one side, the diagonal, another side … etc. It has an ensemble, which Beckett characterizes as follows: “four possible solos, all thereby exhausted (two of them twice); four possible trios, all thereby exhausted twice”; a foursome four times. The order, the course and the ensemble make the movement all the more inexorable as it is without object, like a moving belt which would make the motives appear and disappear. ”
I think that the word exhaustion is a good summary of what can be seen in my work, if we put it in perspective with the geography of the paintings. I often say that my job has everything to do with generation and corruption, or how to make the most out of the leftovers …
Another major work of this exhibition is Merson (see picture on top of the page), a large quadriptych streaked with vertical stripes that stumble on the upper and lower edges of the canvases. Can you tell us how this painting originated?
All the paintings are linked to each other. This one derives from the series of paintings I showed previously in New York at Perrotin in 2016. At that time, the stripes were blended and came out of a dark area at the top of the paintings. Here the bands are more visible, the size of the brushes can be seen, as well as the start and the end of the stripes where excess paint is accumulated.
Your retrospective at the Pompidou Center ended last month, with an original scenography, non-chronological and not organized around your different series. How did you view this exhibition? Did it have an impact on your current work?
The exhibition at the Pompidou Center was curated by Angela Lampe who selected the paintings and chose the themes of the rooms; she proposed a perspective on my work that had not been given until now. It is too early to know what developments I could make out of it. Nothing is mechanical; ideas take improbable paths, relationships that are created can only be explained afterwards and I am sometimes amazed myself by their own logic.
You have already discussed most of your series in interviews, but I read in an essay by Jean-Pierre Criqui that you produced two series at the beginning of your career which I did not know about: the Paintings on a wire and the Piles. I did not manage to find any information on line about those series…
The paintings you mention were published in Bernard Lamarche-Vadel’s magazine “Artistes” and I could not keep them. For a long time, I could not afford to have storage, and I had to bring myself to throw or split up some paintings because nothing was selling. It lasted for many years… I do not have images of these works, we would have to find a copy of the magazine.
Illustration pictures, from top to bottom: Installation view of Bernard Frize: Journey in Autumn, 2019, Perrotin New York. Photo by Guillaume Ziccarelli. Courtesy of the artist & Perrotin. © Bernard Frize / ADAGP, Paris, 2019, ARS, New York, 2019 Installation view of Bernard Frize: Journey in Autumn, 2019, Perrotin New York. Photo by Guillaume Ziccarelli. Courtesy of the artist & Perrotin. © Bernard Frize / ADAGP, Paris, 2019, ARS, New York, 2019 Vera, 2019 Acrylic and resin on canvas 100 x 81 cm | 39 3/8 x 31 7/8 in. Photo by Roman März Courtesy of the artist & Perrotin © Bernard Frize / ADAGP, Paris, 2019, ARS, New York, 2019 Palu, 2019 Acrylic and resin on canvas 281 x 523 cm / 110 5/8 x 205 7/8 in. Photo by Roman März Courtesy of the artist & Perrotin © Bernard Frize / ADAGP, Paris, 2019, ARS, New York, 2019