Image 19 1/8 x 13 5/8 in. (48.4 x 34.5 cm.)
Sheet 20 7/8 x 15 1/4 (53 x 38.8 cm.)
Edition of 75 plus 20 APs
For fifty years Bridget Riley has been regarded as Britain’s greatest abstract painter, renowned for her large paintings, with their complex, repeated geometric shapes and undulating linear patterns. Given the...
For fifty years Bridget Riley has been regarded as Britain’s greatest abstract painter, renowned for her large paintings, with their complex, repeated geometric shapes and undulating linear patterns. Given the graphic nature of these works, it is fascinating to discover that Riley sees her decidedly modern paintings as following in an Old Master pictorial tradition. This affinity stems from her lifelong passion for paintings in the National Gallery, London, with which she has a long association: first as a young student and later as a Trustee. This book shows how the fluid lines of Renaissance and Baroque paintings, together with their palette of ochres, pinks, greens and light blues, translate into the abstracted shapes that appear in Riley’s paintings. The techniques and approaches of early modern masters such as Cézanne, Seurat and Matisse are also important influences in her work.
Although her works do not appear to be based on any particular patterns from the real world, Riley is nevertheless influenced by the effects of nature on the human eye. The experience of looking at these abstract arrangements has been compared to impressions of light and movement, such as the reflection of sunlight on rippling water, or of light passing through leaves. While Riley has observed that the visible world is often far more dazzling than her paintings, she has also pointed out that the connection with nature is central to her work. This work encapsulates the very best of her craft.
Towards the end of the 1980s, Riley's work underwent a dramatic change from her striped works with the reintroduction of the diagonal in the form of a sequence of parallelograms used to disrupt and animate the vertical stripes that had characterised her previous paintings. Riley began to utilise a single visual plane in these works. The high-contrast colour palette is dispersed in such a way as to create cross-tensions that counter the radical thrust of the diagonals as in Veronese’s The Adoration of the Kings (1573).
Veronese, The Adoration of the Kings 1573
Here we experience a world of colour, vibrating, but calm, on a journey with Riley to explore the way in which the slightest compositional shift can dramatically transform the tone and nature of a work, and how the pairing of disparate colours can alter the viewer’s perception of the true nature of the colour itself. Our eyes move around the picture, not simply across it, we follow the colours and shapes up and down and across. By breaking the forms and disrupting the colour a new energy is released and local incidents and contrasts between deep and shallow space start to emerge.
We also experience one of Riley’s widest range of colours and colour contrasts not seen in the work of any other artist. Everywhere there is change and surprise as columns end sharply, heights of colour change and both smooth and jagged shapes are used.
The light is fresh and the space open - with an air of the outdoors. This is a work that “breathes” and exists on much more than paper. The eye travels at different speeds across and through it, from top right to bottom left in quick darts and from top left to bottom right in deep steps. Solidity and fluidity co-exist.
The impact is peculiarly personal and miraculously different. A place of meditation and of vibrant energy and change. Each picture is a distillation, a multi-layered realm of sensation and experience. Each is predicated on the belief that a pictorial world - a space built by colour - is still a viable and rewarding subject for a painter today restless, stimulating, dynamic: these expansive works breath life through colour.
“At the core of colour lies a paradox. It is simultaneously one thing and several things – you can never see colour by itself, it is always affected by other colours…Colour relationships in painting depend on the interactive character of colour; this is its essential nature.”
“Colour relationships are susceptible to change from the beginning. My colour structure is a kind of shifting ground which is different from a stable base.”
Riley in conversation with Isobel Carlisle.
Summary career and exhibitions
Bridget Riley was born in 1931 in London, where she attended Goldsmiths College from 1949 to 1952 and the Royal College of Art from 1952 to 1955. Riley’s first solo exhibitions were held at Gallery One, London in 1962 and 1963, followed by two exhibitions at Robert Fraser Gallery, London, in 1966 and 1967. She was also at that time included in numerous group exhibitions such as Towards Art, Royal College of Art London (1962); The New Generation, Whitechapel Gallery, London (1964); and Painting and Sculpture of a Decade 1954–1964, Tate Gallery, London (1964). In 1965, her work was included in the now-seminal group exhibition The Responsive Eye, organised by William Seitz at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. In 1968, she represented Great Britain at the 34th Venice Biennale (along with Philip King), where she was the first living British painter to win the prestigious International Prize for Painting. Her first retrospective, covering the period 1961-1970, opened at the Hanover Kunstverein in 1971, and subsequently travelled to Kunsthalle Bern, Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna, Turin, and the Hayward Gallery, London.
More recent solo exhibitions include Bridget Riley: Cosmos at Christchurch Art Gallery, New Zealand (2017); Bridget Riley: Venice and Beyond, Paintings 1967-1972 at Graves Gallery, Museum Sheffield, England (2016); Bridget Riley – The Curve Paintings 1961-2014 at De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill on Sea, England (2015; travelled to Gemeentemuseum, The Hague); Bridget Riley: Learning from Seurat at The Courtauld Gallery in London (2015); and Bridget Riley (2014-2015). Bridget Riley: Paintings and Related Work (2010-2011) were on view at the Sunley Room at the National Gallery, London. Also in London in 2010, the National Portrait Gallery presented Bridget Riley: From Life, an exhibition of Riley’s little-known sketches drawn from life. Other recent international museum shows include Bridget Riley: Flashback, which first went on view at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool in 2009; Bridget Riley: Rétrospective at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 2008; Bridget Riley: Paintings and Drawings 1961-2004 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney in 2004-2005; Bridget Riley: New Work at the Museum Haus Esters and Kaiser Wilhelm Museum, Krefeld, Germany in 2002; and Bridget Riley: Reconnaissance at the Dia Center for the Arts, New York from 2000-2001. Work by the artist is included in museum collections worldwide, including the Art Institute of Chicago; Arts Council, U.K.; British Council, U.K.; Dia Art Foundation, New York; Israel Museum, Jerusalem; Kunstmuseum Bern; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Siegen, Germany; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo; Nationalgalerie, Berlin; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; and Tate Gallery, London. Riley lives and works in London.