Bernard Frize, painter: 'I need to do the mundane tasks, the stretching of the canvas, washing the brushes'


Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Bernard Frize has a studio in the top of a building near the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris. Formerly a printing factory, the large light space has coved arches and copious storage space on archival system. Upstairs, there is mezzanine living area and kitchen with an uninterrupted view of the sky.

Born in Saint-Mandé, France, in 1949, Frize currently splits his time between Berlin and Paris, looking after his young daughter in the German capital. Recently she visited him in Paris and installed her own exhibition of drawings that are still displayed on his lofty walls.

It is not surprising that she has a work ethic in her genes. Frize may be "simply" a painter but he refuses to repeat himself – always needing to challenge himself to find new concepts where he exhausts all possibilities and then moves on. An early series from 1993 is based on the viscosity of paints and had him mixing two colours together and then bending the canvas, producing works that instantly conjure up landscape in the viewer's eyes. But this is only in our eyes, he points out, as they are totally based on accident.

On his large archival shelves that he pulls out he shows me the first painting he did in 1977. He chose to paint a work of the most vertical and horizontal lines with the smallest brush he could find. It took him a year to make – seven paintings in all. He says, "I only painted on Sundays – I was a true Sunday painter – and I wanted, no, needed, it to come from work." Afterwards he abandoned the lines and turned to another minute motif – circles – building up the paint and then carving into the surface.

Frize had assistants until 2004, after which he wanted to get back to the basics. Prior to that many of his works required more than one pair of hands – two people to manipulate the loaded brushes at the same time – but he now prefers to be simpler in his explorations. "I need to do the mundane tasks, the stretching of the canvas, the washing of the brushes and the cleaning of the floor."

Berlin has been a challenge, he admits, after this lofty light-filled space; there he is in a darker smaller space. More problematic, though, is the lack of good artist materials that are available: "There are many great painters and the paint supply is just crap. Perhaps that is why Sigmar Polke did so much experimental work." Forced to go back to work in oils, as he can obtain them easily, he has turned his attention and decreased time to solving new motifs – and "a bit of psycho-analysis".

In the end, he says, "I need reasons to make a painting – the reason has to drive me happily to the painting. Yet I am always unsatisfied – that's why I am doing the next one."

Bernard Frize: Colour Divides, Simon Lee Gallery, London W1 (020 7491 0100) 23 May to 24 June