Los Angeles Times

January 3rd, 2003
Christopher Grimes Gallery
Pia Fries

By David Pagel

Pia Fries is a painter who doesn’t let her infatuation with trick-the-eye illusionism get in the way of her love of paint’s tactility. At Christopher Grimes Gallery, four large oils on canvas and three medium-sized paintings on paper are simultaneously juicy and lyrical, as resplendent in their physicality as they are graceful in their visual appeal. 

The Swiss-born, Düsseldorf, Germany-based artist’s first solo show in Los Angeles demonstrates that, when it comes to abstract painting, you can eat your cake and have it too — especially if you have talent to burn and aren’t afraid of making a mess. 

Viewers reap the benefits of Fries’ celebratory paintings, which begin as big white fields. Onto these blank slates she silk-screens enlarged photographic images of rudimentary sculptures she has made from lumps of oil paint or bundles of brightly colored crepe paper. From a distance, these mechanically reproduced pictures resemble brush strokes. They form the backbone of Fries’ compositions, whose flesh and blood is made of nothing but paint. 

In her hands, paint doesn’t function as it ordinarily does, smoothly covering surfaces or filling up space. The 47-year-old artist uses paint sculpturally, exploiting its plasticity to build 3-D reliefs that take turns pulling your eye into deep space and jumping off the wall. 

A typical painting by Fries includes every color in the rainbow (and an indescribable variety of mixtures). More important, it includes an encyclopedic inventory of ways of applying paint: slathering, slinging, stirring, splotching, splashing, scraping and squirting (through specially designed funnels), to name but a few of her techniques. 

No two components of any painting are laid down the same way. This suggests that the permutations available to Fries are infinite and that she’d need a powerful computer to see her vision realized. 

The presence of advanced digital technology registers in her paintings in another way. Although Fries juxtaposes photographic reproductions with hand-painted passages, her works never have the presence of collages (whose cut-and-paste collisions are beginning to look very 20th century). In contrast, her up-to-the-minute paintings give sensuous shape to the look of digitally manipulated images in which disparate components fuse to form seamless hybrids. Through Jan. 11.