Pia Fries uses photographed and silkscreened elements in her work alongside and under and against fantastic piles of caked, troweled, scraped and smeared oil paint. Her extroverted passages of paint nearly always surface and submerge from areas of flat white ground. The separation of the gestures by both white spaces and the distinction of photographed marks from “real” marks keeps her work from expressionism. Each thought, however juicy, is captured and placed separately and is therefore not a painterly simulation of an ecstatic state but more possibly a dissection of one.
Born in Switzerland in 1955, she studied sculpture at the Lucerne School of Art in 1980, then moved on to the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf to study painting with Gerhard Richter until 1986. Critics have pointed out that Fries sometimes uses the squeegee to apply paint, like her mentor, but the similarity in their method ends there. Fries has said she learned from Richter not any specific theory of painting but the belief that painting was something that “you can do today.”
Using palette knives, squeegees and extruding tools that she makes herself, Pia Fries loads paint in massive quantities onto snowy white panels, creating viscerally attractive topographies of striated swathes, rippling ribbons, melting puddles and bristly thickets of brush strokes. The paint itself seems to have absorbed the playful spirit of the artist and taken on a comically agitated life of its own. Pia Fries uses both photography and sieve printing on a white background beside, and beneath, mounds of oil paint that has been piled, scraped and then smeared into position. These generously-applied layers of oil paint lend the work a layered, almost sculptural, landscape quality.
Fries has exhibited extensively in Europe and the United States, and had her first solo show in London with Bernard Jacobson Gallery in 2007. She had a retrospective at the Kunstmuseum Winterthur in the same year. Although complex in their imagery and with obvious reference to the great American Abstract Expressionists, her paintings have a particularly contemporary European freshness to them.
Pia Fries lives and works in Düsseldorf, Germany.