Last Chance to View: Bernard Frize at Simon Lee Gallery

Bernard Frize's exhibition is on at Simon Lee Gallery until July 20, 2017

The name Bernard Frize, contemporary French artist, may not resound with the same familiarity as Jeff Koons or Damien Hirst, but his contribution to the world of art – vibrantly coloured works of acrylic – is no lesser for it. Since the late 1970’s he’s been exploring the process of painting, and his practice is largely based on technique and movement. Frize eradicates personal decision rather than premeditating the end result. And just in case you’re wondering, yes, the luxury brands have beaten a trail to his door, but unlike so many of his peers, he refuses to succumb.

When did you decide to become an artist?

I was young, 15. In fact, I went to art school and then I stopped for eight years. And then I started again around 30. Then I understood what I was searching for.

You ‘found your voice’ as writers might say?

Yes. Let’s say, the strategies I conceived for my work became clear.

Bernard Frize's exhibition is on at Simon Lee Gallery until July 20, 2017

On first glimpse your work has echoes of Sonia Delaunay, Mondrian, bits of Kandinsky, Malevich. Do you feel that?

My work is not – I don’t see homage to anyone in my work, or if it’s there, I don’t see it. I’ve probably been most influenced by visiting museums and nature.

How do know when to start new work. What’s the catalyst?

A lot of the process of being an artist is trying to find a decision to make a painting, and I have to find good reason to wake-up in the morning and stand up. So I create stories, which might be just counting – one, two, three, four, five – that give me good reason to make a painting.

How long does it take to create one work?

Ten minutes. I’m painting very quickly.

That’s fast.

But in order to have one I have to paint 10. I’m very bad at making a lot of mistakes. Painting in resin is not easy. And you can’t always see what will happen as you do it. I have to wait for the resin to dry to see the colours. And some parts are just not right. Some lines aren’t straight when they should be, for example. That for me is one of the reasons to discard the paintings.

So there is a large element of chance in the finished result? It’s not Damien Hirst’s dialed-in-by-100-assistants Spot paintings, for example?

No. Absolutely the opposite. I’m producing something that is not what I design at first. The process of painting is making things happen. It’s almost like the colours aren’t important in fact. What I care about most is the activity of painting. I have to find a process to engage with the activity.

Bernard Frize's exhibition is on at Simon Lee Gallery until July 20, 2017

What do collectors say about your work? What do they like about it?

I have no idea. I could tell you in France what they say, but not here.

What do they say in France?

Well they are matching it with the curtains. [Laughter]

I’ve always been told never to use the word ‘decorative’ in front of an artist.

Of course I don’t think my work is decorative but for sure people buy for these reasons. Yes, some buy it as an investment, too. There are plenty of ways to consider a painting.

Have you been approached for collaborations – like Alex Katz and Barneys, for example?

Yes I have often, but I don’t do that. I’ve never done public work. No, no. I don’t want to mix things up in that way. It’s already complicated enough. If you do that as an artist, you are only doing it for money and I don’t think that’s so interesting.

Bernard Frize's exhibition is on at Simon Lee Gallery until July 20, 2017

What about phases in your work – have you gone through periods in your work?

I’m trying to make as few decisions as possible. I’m trying not to choose a colour. I’m trying also to find a coherent way that implies there is a logic – but, I have the feeling I’m always doing the same thing. [Laughter]. There is a lot of repetition, but I’m always trying to find new angles…

But your work is much more versatile than say Hirst’s spots.

Thank you very much. And I’m still painting and scratching my canvas myself. I’m an anachronism!

Unlike Hirst.

Yes. He’s like a designer architect. Sometimes the work can feel dead.

When you talk to students at the Beaux-Arts school in Paris, how different are young people’s art concerns now compared with your own?

When I was a student information was difficult to get. So you’d travel a lot, before it was clear. There were also fewer artists. At the time there weren’t lots of big sellers either.

If you could take one desert-island artwork, what would it be?

If I was on a desert island I would paint it myself. There are many I could take, either Alexander Rodchenko or Kazimir Malevich. I’ve been revisiting Malevich at the Royal Academy. And the effect of Black Square. It’s a painting that almost closes all conversation. It is so different from everything else. It’s like pop art, yet it’s 1915.

Until July 20. Simon Lee Gallery, 304, 3/F Pedder Building, 12 Pedder Street, Central, Hong Kong

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