Ever since Pia Fries showed her paintings on paper at a 1995 exhibition in Meggen, the artist has revisited the medium many times. So her interest in creating works on paper in particular was strengthened when she began enriching the white of the underlying primer with printed images, thereby creating figurative focal points for her painterly interventions. These include, as in her work No. 8, screen prints of twisted fabric that create an illusory aspect in the image. The power of illusion in her photographic reproductions is shattered in several ways by nonfigurative color markings. In another group of works, No. 53, Fries used leftover copies of the cover of one of her own catalogues as a visual element. There is an encounter in the picture between the white ground of the paper, the gray printed paper, the painting reproduced on it, and the actual painting—all converging and overlapping, supporting and negating each other’s reality.
Fries was a student of Gerhard Richter, so her approach is hardly surprising. She had a somewhat divided attitude to painting right from the start: attracted to the sensual beauty of the paint and color that she applied in the creation of figures, only to turn her attention soon afterward to treating the paint as an object in its own right. Yet, because this was not enough for her, she integrated mechanically reproduced images into the purely painterly.
When Fries paints, she does not do so on impulse. She approaches the matter with thought and deliberation, carefully choosing the color, the place where she will apply it, and the choice of instrument. Instead of paintbrush and palette knife, she uses a wide variety of found and self-made tools to apply the paint, whether in thick clumps or as a fine glaze, in ways that shape its appearance. In doing so, she does not stand in front of the vertical image; instead the paper lies horizontal on the floor. She walks around it, observing this island of white from various angles, bending over it, crouching, kneeling—always ensuring that a certain balance is maintained. Her way of seeing is never frontal and from a distance, but ensuing from movement, it is directly involved and thus partial. This is an artist who perceives the parts rather than the whole, and who moves from one patch of color to another, pulling the center of the image outward toward the edges.
Improvisation takes the place of self-contained composition; lines are flexed and forms are stacked, there is no taking pause nor seeking a firm hold. Here, painting is not so much a question of projecting an idea onto a surface, but rather of physical work driven by the reach of the artist’s gestures, her shifting focus, both reaching out and shoring up. This is evident in the distinctive tectonics of the composition, and reflected in the buoyancy of the individual parts within the image. For Fries, the use of paint and color is not about outlining and contouring figures, but about shaping the material into tactile forms and making them glide over the surface in order to assert their very existence against the printed images.
Further works by Pia Fries in the Baloise art collection:
Inv. no. 1153, Tisch Quer 1, 2009, Oil and screen print on paper, 71.8 x 102 cm
Inv. no. 1154, Tisch Quer 2, 2009, Oil and screen print on paper, 67.5 x 94.5 cm
Inv. no. 1155, Tisch Hoch 2, 2009, Oil and screen print on paper, 103 x 67 cm