DATE: 2/23/2010 | BY THOMAS EVANS
Pia Fries (born 1955) is a Swiss-born painter, now living in Düsseldorf, Germany. A former student of Gerhard Richter, she shares her mentor's fondness for visceral paint effects, blending and smearing colors in horizontal gestures, but the similarity ends there: if Richter's paint manoeuvres conjure present-day preoccupations with blur and speed, Fries seems to use paint as a way to move across pictorial space, of finding out where to go--not so much "taking a line for a walk" (in Klee's phrase) as taking a splodge for a walk.
The American author Dave Hickey has written a nice characterization of Fries' work: “Of all the continental exemplars of rowdy, American abstraction, Fries’ I think are the most knowing and cosmopolitan, the most forgiving of nature and culture catastrophically jumbled, the most tolerant of the past and present fatally blurred.”
For the 14 diptychs that comprise the Merian's Surinam series, Fries uses reproductions by the painter and botanical illustrator Maria Sybilla Merian (1647–1717). Merian's images of plants, flowers, animals and insects are elaborated upon with oil paint, from thin to thick impasto, and with varying degrees of obscuration: Walther König has made a very beautiful production of this volume, from the thick beige linen cover with inlaid paint image, to the light cream paper stock within. The book also contains a conversation between Fries and Camille Morineau, in which Fries makes a useful observation on her medium: "I try to free paint/color from duties that are alien to it and not adapted to its concerns. Only then does the paint show its body, its weight, its physical resistance, its potential for consistency, aggregation, its qualities of fluidity and solidity."
Countering this appetite for body and weight are occasional pages of more fragmented imagery, such as the below, which emphasize the work's sequencing in book form: An essay by Christine Buci-Glucksmann describes Fries as practicing a "kind of archaeology of the painterly gesture, showing its traces, memories and all the organized and distanced debris and ruins of a partially lost botanical past that is suddenly resuscitated in a conscious ambiguity."
Pia Fries: Merian’s Surinam
WALTHER KöNIG, KöLNClth, 7 x 9.75 in. / 100 pgs / 25 color.