Pia Fries

Pia Fries typically crosses broad, white grounds with thick brushstrokes, furrowing and altering the picture plane with blots, traces of drops, superimpositions, and washes, as if the canvas were once again the arena it was for classic gestural painting. The impression of spontaneity, however, is repeatedly undone under closer examination: At first barely noticeable, silk-screened photographs of applied paint emerge from the loose texture of the oil painting. Spot and brushstroke directly encounter their own reproductions. The authentic gesture of painting is replaced, almost indistinguishably, with its copy. The display of paint, its flow, and its thinning are expanded a level by a memory of painting, a recollection of the painted. The eruptions of paint, which in Fries’s work have always run up against the external form, are, in these new paintings, further disturbed by images within the image. Collaging painting with itself the use of printing processes, Fries elicits hybrid images whose illusionist passages take up the actual application of paint in stark relief. Here the art of painting is at once identical to and distanced from itself. In the broken temporality of these images, the explosive moment of painterly intervention remains frozen as the stasis of the photographic reproduction. One could speak of dynamic rhythmic changes, of mute approaches and conflicts that result from the meandering of painting into photography and vice versa, and of the permeation and detachment of finely related and shrilly contrasting traces of paint.

In the series “Les Aquarelles de Léningrad,” 2003, facsimile prints of eighteenth-century botanical and entomological illustrations have been torn into fragments, then mounted on rough wooden boards and shaken with paint, as along a tectonic fault line. The figurative elements, the streaks of paint, and the rough wood background form a precarious unity beyond the modern distinctions of figuration and abstraction, figure and ground. Little moments of narrative begin only to break off again. The animals and plants against a neutral background recall possible landscapes, as they offer suddenly, in their burlesque forms, myriad points of departure for gestural painting. Surprising intersections and transitions are likewise to be found. The illusionism of the figurative representations runs up against the actuality of painting. Hung as they were here side by side in a row along the length of a wall, the “watercolors” appear in an intermediate state between print series and painterly singularity. Hybridity of form pertains not only to the individual images but also the status of the work as a whole. Found, newly painted, and documented traces blend within a single composition to form a different kind of original. Fries deploys strategies of sampling and loops in her work comparable to those familiar from digital music and imaging. And yet the starkly physical presence of the painting itself and its ground lends the fleeting reproductions of selected materials a very particular, vibrating permanence, as if a cluster of strong tones were never to fade away.

Hans Rudolf Reust

Translated from German by Diana Reese.