(Roman Opalka at Grant Selwyn Fine Art)
STORMY WEATHER PIERCED BY SUNSHINE
(Pia Fries at Christopher Grimes Gallery)
The Polish-born artist, Roman Opalka, who now lives in France, started his masterpiece almost forty years ago and he has not finished it yet. In 1965, while still in Poland, he painted a canvas in solid black, and, using it as a blackboard, he painted in white the number one, then number two and number three and so on and so forth. The counting began at the top left corner of the first canvas and formed horizontal lines from top to bottom, producing a melancholic spidery lace of flickering white numbers. The counting on each new painting continued where the previous one left off. Now, two hundred canvases later, the counting has exceeded six million. In each new piece, one percent of white has been added to the initially black background. As a result, the background of his most recent canvases has become pearly gray, and if God grants the 72 year-old artist another decade, Roman Opalka will end up painting white numbers on a white background. His own death will bring the whole project to an inevitable, logical end.
You may look at this lifetime project as the artistic ego dissolving into a white void. Or you may see it as obsessive-compulsive behavior on a par with that of a medieval monk chained to his duty of copying religious texts. Each painting of Roman Opalka comes with an audio tape of the artist slowly pronouncing the numbers as he paints them. He also documents his own aging in a series of black and white photographs of his face on a white background, his once dark hair slowly turning white, the process paralleling that of his painting. Upon entering the elegantly minimalistic white cube of the Grant Selwyn Gallery, which hosts the Roman Opalka show until January 4th, be prepared to confront your own sense of mortality. The artworks are difficult, sad, and ultimately beautiful.
OK. Time to change the mood and swing the pendulum. The exhibition of paintings by Pia Fries at the Christopher Grimes Gallery shows this young Swiss artist unafraid to raise a storm of wild colors sweeping across a white background. She starts by sculpting dynamic abstract shapes, photographing them, and then silk-screening the images onto panels. After that she starts to paint with exuberant brush strokes, sometimes loaded literally with pounds of oil paint, sometimes containing only a whisper of color. The process is very intuitive, very improvisational, but also supported by an uncanny sense of balance and control.
Pia Fries' art, with its heightened sense of color and physicality, pulls out all the stops as it crosses the border between painting and sculpture. Her art always deals with stormy weather miraculously pierced by sunshine. One can only guess to what degree her Swiss background and current residence in Dusseldorf, Germany impact her work. But seeing the explosion of colors in her exhibition here in sunny California, I'm thinking about how much this very talented artist has challenged my preconceived idea of 'Swiss reserve'.
October 24, 2002 - January 4, 2003
Grant Selwyn Fine Art
341 North Canon Drive
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
November 30, 2002 - January 11, 2003
Christopher Grimes Gallery
916 Colorado Avenue
Santa Monica, CA 90401