Review: Bernard Piffaretti, “Mitte”

Klemm’s, Berlin.

For Mitte – French abstract painter Bernard Piffaretti’s first Berlin solo show – ten large, enigmatic and flirtatiously bright paintings hung conservatively in a row along the walls of the main gallery: a variety pack of formal studies composed of geometric blocks of color, bold intersecting lines and letterings, equally balanced across canvases divided into two down the middle. An uncanny pattern emerged: a doubling effect in the images where the same image is painted twice on the same canvas, mimicked left and right. The eye wandered back and forth, attempting to unlock the puzzle of the self-contained meme and decode the artist’s experiments in variation.

For example, in sans titre, (2012), the work is a doubled patterning of broad, zigzagging blue, black and green stripes. The stripes lean at angles, towards and away from one another, like mechanized blades of grass. Piffaretti’s duplicated paintings are neither exact copies of one another, nor are they independent images. They are produced with calculated, yet irreverent brush strokes, adding unique aspects to both iterations. Imperfections are welcomed, if not highlighted – revealing the elements involved in the production process, as well as personalizing the act of doubling.

In titling this show Mitte, Piffaretti guided the viewer to a thematic key of his work: the act of manual self-reproduction. The majority of Pifaretti’s paintings are untitled and in some cases, the works are declaratively unfinished, as with sans titre (inachevé) (2008). In this work, the left side of the canvas is blanketed with layered swathes of colour washes – red, white, orange, yellow, pink and brown; a blue line splits the centre of the canvas and the right side is left vacant, leaving space for the viewer to ruminate on the painting’s development and perhaps fill in the blanks on his own.

Piffaretti created a generative paradox: the principle rule of dividing the canvas provided a platform for analyzing the process of painting while functioning as an anchoring device linking each painting. The focus was not on the uniqueness of the works, nor on the radical inventiveness of the form or colour configuration, but rather on the process: repetition and re-presentation. By defining and challenging this boundary, Piffaretti creates a space for exploration through similarity and difference. He suspends the desire for visual resolution, instead offering up a continual loop of images within images.

Having developed a form of computational language in painting over the last few decades, Piffaretti’s work feels more relevant than ever in light of the familiar copy and paste distortions of printed and digital media. Piffarettis paintings make us do a double take, defying the stagnancy of certain abstract painting.

First published inIssue 11, September/October 2013.

arielle bier