John Reiff Williams – An introduction to Chris Friel

Investing myself in this piece, I feel the passage of time built up stroke by stroke in a palette defined by the
changing position of objects, colors, texture and densities. The tracery gestures of the fast moving sky and
anything not pinned down, are expressed without detail as a gesture in contrast to the sharply rendered
objects in stasis. The rendering technique is executed with the deliberate intent of not capturing and
recapitulating a frozen moment held in one’s head. I am not looking at a snapshot laid down on the canvas.
No, this image was not rendered from a photographic memory but rather from a state of mind that
embraces the ideals of change, chance and expressing the constantly changing now. The artist’s embrace
of change and chance are essential qualities to where my attention lies. The criteria for rendering the
moment creates a new kind of palette defined by the differences between solid objects (stasis) and
transitory physical marks (gesture). This new palette illuminates and expresses the experience of dynamic
change by redefining the logic of strokes and the purpose of rendering. This is what remains of my first
impression of viewing the paintings (nearly 40 years ago) by Eugene Luis Boudin, from the 1860’s in his works on the beaches of Honfleur, Le Havre and
Yes, the 1860’s is what I am referring to. This seems a reasonable point in time to step into a world in
radical perceptual flux, expanding its boundaries and understanding of the visual-physical world.
Photographers began to question how the physical world worked and their photographic evidence
changed our perception of time and motion. This was a period when time was split and moved linearly,
with the work of the English photographer, Eadweard Muybridge’s locomotion studies of animals for the purpose of
science and art. While the questioning of the psychology and science behind the composition of color
came into art and Impressionism was born. This was a time
where the world became restacked, reordered and informed with a larger variety of techniques to access
the visual physical world.
And now let us fast forward to the work of photographer, Chris Friel. Friel’s work embraces the elements
of chance, not unlike Boudin, and the reinvestigation of old ideas. In the process, Friel has invented his
own visual sense for reconsidering the representation of ideas and reordering the visual physical world.
Friel has invented his own methods and visual language. His work embraces a range from the micro
movements of the body breathing to the violent forces of nature dancing, shifting and colliding. There is a
high level of risk involved in the language of image making he is developing. Having created images in a
similar fashion on film 35 years ago in the La Jolla Beach Project, I had a success rate of about 1%. The
process of creating a Friel’s image is largely subject to chance. And with that chance comes the most
exciting reason for Friel to work in this lexicon, discovery of something that has never been seen before,
expected or imagined. The truth of the image is discovered after the risks have been taken. There is very
little certainty in knowing at the end of the day whether Friel will return home with anything other than
more questions and perhaps a few successes. And this brings me back to Boudin; I think risk is the
underlying principle of his work as well. This suggests that personal growth and development are
dependent upon practice, continued questioning and honesty. Ultimately, I think Friel and I both are
interested in finding ourselves plastered to the front of a fast moving train and ending up intact, in an
unknown land, without a map with the courage and perseverance to keep practicing daily, making
mistakes and making great art.

© John Reiff Williams, 2014