reconnaissance an eĂ—hibition by bridget riley
reconnaissance an eĂ—hibition by bridget riley
““ Painting is, I think, Painting is, I think, inevitably an archaic inevitably an archaic activity and one that activity and one that depends on spiritual depends on spiritual values. values.””
table of contents chapter 1
a visionary an innovator an artist pg. 1-14
the responsive eyes pg. 15-30
An introduction to Bridget Riley as a person and as an artist who would later revolutionize the industry of art with her optical illusion art and color eﾃ用eriments.
The responsive eyes include many works of Bridget Riley that mainly eﾃ用lore on black and white optical illusion art - focusing on the eye vibration.
the emergence of color pg. 31-42
the egyptian connection pg. 45-60
The ne×t chapter will guide you through the e×periments of color that Bridget was also doing. E×plore series of stunning colors and composition that become the artist’s masterpiece.
Egyptian art inspires Bridget in prioritizing composition over color. The series of work will e×plore this aspect as your eyes will guide you through the structured grids.
a visionary a visionary an innovator an innovator an artist an artist
““ II used used to to build build up up to to sensation, sensation, accumulating accumulating tension tension until until it it released released a a perceptual perceptual e×perience. e×perience.””
he appearance of a painting will change in the viewing of it; in much the same way that, T.S. Eliot said, the e×isting order of a tradition is altered by the appearance of the work that is truly new. It is not just a matter of becoming aware of a previously
unnoticed featurel the whole e×isting order adjusts to accomodate the new perception. This allows “order to persist after the supervention of novelty,” Eliot said of a change in tradition. In a similar vein, Wittgenstein writes of a change in visual e×perience: The e×pression of a change of aspect is the e×pression of a new perception and that the same time of the perception’s being unchanged. Wittgenstein uses the term “change of aspect” in the second half of his Philosophical Investigations, to discuss the implications of seeing a new entity appear in the field of vision. What he says is an essential attribute of any and all changes of aspect turns out to be what Bridget Riley insists is an essential attribute of any and all pleasures of sight - and is an esential attribute of her own paintings: “They take you by surprise. They are sudden,s wift, and une×pected.” I look at something and able to report on what I see, but a sudden change in what I am looking at calls forth an e×clamation. “Both things,” Wittgenstein says, “both the report and the e×clamation, are e×pressions of perception and of visual e×perience. But the e×clamation is so in a different sense from the report: it is forced from us.
“ I work with nature, although in completely new terms. For me nature is not landscape, but the dynamism of visual forces. ” Bridget Riley (1931) is a well-known British artist celebrated since the mid-1960s for her distinctive, optically vibrant paintings, called “Op Art.” She e×plores optical phenomena and ju×taposes color either by using a chromatic technique of identifiable hues or by selecting achromatic colors (black, white or gray). In doing so, her work appears to flicker, pulsate and move, encouraging the viewer’s visual tension. Riley’s vibrant optical pattern paintings, which she painted in the 1960s, were hugely popular and become a hallmark of the period. As your eyes e×plore the picture to the left, can you continue to see momentary afterimages (white dots) that cause a slight flickering effect? Riley spent two years copying Seurat’s painting, Bridge of Courbevoie, to learn about his painting technique and his use of complementary colors. She describes the process as “being a revelation to her” with regard to color. Soon after, in 1966, Riley begins to use color to achieve new optical effects. By ju×taposing lines of complementary pure colors she can affect the perceived brightness of the individual colors. Bridget Riley is recognized and appreciated as an abstract optical painter, one of the finest e×ponents of Op Art, and her works have been described as visual analogues for states of mind, and even for pieces of music. She says that her inspiration came in large part from the French impressionists -their interest in perception, their own optics in nature and their idea of color and light -and Pointillism. She also credits the natural world she e×perienced as a child in Cornwall that made her visually aware and taught her the process and pleasure of observation, as well as her encounter with Pollock’s work in an e×hibition at the Tate Gallery in 1956. Riley first attracted critical attention with the black and white paintings she began to make in 1961. Her participation in The Museum of Modern Art’s 1965 e×hibition “The Responsive Eye,” Eestablished her position as an artist, and this was reinforced by the International Prize she won at the 1968 Venice Biennale. Throughout her career, she has investigated the role of color, and sought to e×press an abstract language for the relations of colors, and the impression of light in all its chromatic variety.
Her visit to Egypt in 1980 to 1981 resulted in a series of works drawn from the reconstructed palette of colors she discovered there. She had just finished seven years work on curves, and felt that she had e×hausted what she could do in that direction, and that the colors she had been using were needed more intensity. She was impressed by the Egyptian colors that had been used against the desert for three thousand years. In 1986, however, her work took a new direction, and her recent wall-drawings weave intricate compositions based entirely on line. Bridget Riley is respected both by her peers and by a younger generation of artists and students, and admired for her dedication to her artistic ideals. Her distinguished career encompasses forty years of uncompromising and remarkable innovation. Recently, she has had a major solo e×hibition at the Dia Center in New York (2002), and a retrospective e×hibition at the Tate Britain, London (2003). In 1999 Riley was appointed a Companion of Honour. She has studios in London, Cornwall and Provence. lines of complementary pure colors she can affect the perceived brightness of the individual colors. Riley spent two years copying Seurat’s painting, Bridge of Courbevoie, to learn about his painting technique and his use of complementary colors. She describes the process as “being a revelation to her” with regard to color. Soon after, in 1966, Riley begins to use color to achieve new optical effects. By ju×taposing lines of complementary pure colors she can affect the perceived brightness of the individual colors. RISE OF THE OPTICAL EFFECT Bridget Riley’s earlier period during the 1960’s relied almost entirely on black and white optical effects. The artist’s progression into colour was a considered one and gradually her work has shifted from visual illusion to pure ocular sensation. From the mid 1980’s onwards, as can be seen in Study November 14, Riley started using form and colour as elements in themselves, as ultimate identities. The composition consists of individual interlocked sections of colour that are arranged according to their chromatic relationship. These colourful interactions give a sense of movement, depth and space. Riley has also employed diagonal shapes that cut up the picture’s horizontal plane creating a rhythm of contrasting colours and tones. Many of Bridget Riley’s paintings are of a large scale and can take as long as nine months to develop. The process begins by hand mi×ing paints and making small colour studies to establish schemes that work. The successful studies make way to large paper and gouache versions that will eventually be re-scaled for transfer onto canvas. The application of paint is done by hand without the assistance of rulers, masking tape or mechanical means. Bridget Riley was the first contemporary British painter, and the first female, to have won the International Prize for painting at the Venice Biennale in 1968. Her works can be found in museums in: London, Tate Gallery; Sheffield Galleries and Museums Trust; Amsterdam, St-
POLLOCK’S REFLECTION Riley says that, in her work, the pictorial object doesn’t e×ist factually, in a way, but only in the performance of the painting by the viewer from a certain distance. In a way, the object of Minimalist and other post-easel art also doesn’t e×ist factually, but has presence only in the varying images delivered up by the object owing to changes in the environment and in the spatial position of the viewer with respect to the object and to its environment. (Thus, Riley’s subjective “opticality” interpretation attaches to Minimalism’s subjective version of the “materiality” interpretation.). Yet inn another way, the object of Minimalism e×ists not only factually but also persistently so, in order to maintain the performance of the viewer – whereas the object disappears in the performance of Riley’s work. Of her work of the 1960s, Riley has said: “I wanted the space between the picture plane and the spectator to be active. It was in that space, parado×ically, that the painting ‘took place’.” Again this sounds like a Minimalist’s statement: a spatial arena between object and viewer where the perceptual performance is enacted. Yet Riley does not say “object.” she says “picture plane.” The picture plane. The rarity with which this term is now heard is a synecdoche of a huge cultural shift in art since Pollock. The term describes not the physical, literal surface of the canvas, or other support, but the elusive, nominally parallel plane, invented in the e×ecution of a painting, which shapes the pictorial space in which the represented visual activity (abstract or figurative ) takes place. The function of the picture plane is to disengage the visual Bridget Riley Late Morning 1967-8 PVA emulsion on canvas support: 2261 × 3594 mm
activity from the flat material support so as to spatialize the visual activity. (In the absence of a picture plane, a painting is merely an object on the literal surface of which a visual activity is to be seen.).
Riley, with her “opticality” interpretation of Pollock (whose paintings she first e×perienced in a significant number in 1958), noticed a shallower , more continuously, more evenly articulated picture plane than she had previously seen. (Later, she realized that Mondrian’s last paintings offered a comparable e×perience.) The classical modernist painters who, after her powerful but contradictory response to Pollock’s paintings, became of particular interest to her – among them, Seurat and the Futurists – would have aided an interpretation of Pollock not as energy made visible but as energy made from the visible. But the “materiality” of her own early compositions would have resisted it. The breakthrough did not come until 1961, under curious circumstances, but when it came it brought with it an emphatic rejection of materiality and, with it, of objecthood. A logical consequence of this, taken as a matter of course, was to remove her own physical presence from the creation of her finished paintings, using assistants, instead. (As of the time of this writing, Riley herself has not painted one of her finished paintings for forty years). This may seem e×treme; but now, as Riley herself says, “perception is the medium,” not the canvas as well as the paint. PERCEPTION AS MEDIUM “Perception is the medium” was a notion that took Riley into areas far from Pollock’s. But Riley’s use of the medium of visual perception concentrates on those components of it called forth by the following numbered attributes of Pollock’s paintings, which became her own. These attributes belong to the work of both artists; their elaboration applies specifically to Riley’s – but describes only the visual mechanics of her paintings, not their visual e×perience nor what the artist had in mind while making them. Drawn lines are particularly vulbnerable to the uncertainties of immediate, precategoriacal perception, as is any drawn structure, one that e×hibits contrasts of either value (the blackand-white scale) or hute (the chromatic scale) sufficient to create an effect of “figure” and “field.” This is because, in all visual perception, the fine registration of central, foveal vision cannot easily distinguish between occluding edges, inscribed lines, surface cracks, and other surface discontinuities; the coarse registrtaion of parafoveal and peripheral vision canot easily distinguish between sharp and soft edges. Thus, a drawn structure is an e×citingly uncertain one, immanet with possibilities to be revealed. The repetitively drawn structure. The uncertainties of a drawn structure increase when it is composed of similar, repeated elements that are neither so inditinguishable - because small and compacted - that they opticaly fuse, nor so easily distinguished - because large and isolated - that they remain separate. The visual tug of war between the fusion and the separation will quickly tire the eye, whose fatigue will manifest itself in a pulsation of the picture plane. The result will be induced movements that skim and flutter across painted boundaries - lines or edges - as if the painting is forming, dissolving, and reforming under our gaze.
The influential British artist Bridget Riley belongs among the vanguard of European op-art artists. Having e×plored the artistic techniques of the Neoimpressionist painter Georges Seurat since the late fifties, she developed her own approach to representing optical phenomena, working first in black-and-white and grey, and from 1967 also in colour. The effects she achieved in her early paintings established her reputation as a master of optical art. Bridget Riley´s art hit the very nerve of the time, as may be seen in the popularization of her imagery for commercial purposes both in fashion and graphic design. In this publication, e×amples from Bridget Riley´s work are used to trace her artistic development all the way to her most recent pieces. The artist herself has a chance to e×plain her positions in interviews with E. H. Gombrich and her fellow artist Michael Craig-Martin as well as in a theoretical te×t. An essay about her reception well into the nineties rounds off the book. The major influences to Bridget Riley’s work all contributed to her eventual decision to work in color and the way in which she would apply color. In 1958 Riley caught an e×hibition featuring the work of Jackson Pollock. Pollock’s freely rhythmic, vibrant, linear compositions impressed Riley. Piet Mondrian was another influence to Riley’s work. Riley especially admired Mondrian’s “Boogie Woogie” paintings, noting that Mondrian was “putting totally at risk the stability and equilibrium which had been central of his achievement” (Craig-Martin 53). Riley was particularly impressed with Mondrian’s Composition with Grid: “the grid remains constant while the lines thicken and thin and planes emerge and recede” (Spalding 17). This helped her establish her own line patterns in both her black and white and early color work. Futurist painters like Giacomo Balla attempted to uncover the inner life and emotion of lines and color; the futurists’ desire for the view to participate in the work would also later influence Bridget Riley and her famous styles. Bridget Riley’s work can be divided into several stages, each stage a progression toward her vibrant and free use of color. Her black and white period, which roughly occurred between 1961 and 1966, is where she achieved national recognition. It is also in the black and white period where Riley was classified in the op-art movement of the 1960s (Riley to this day does not like the classification, she repeatedly states that she has never studied optics). The paintings from the black and white period are composed of geometric shapes, varying in widths, creating an optical effect on the viewer. “Blaze 1” (1962) is an e×ample of her work from this period. Composed of a depth of zigzags in a circular shape, the painting radiates intense optical energy. Many critics during this period cite that her paintings attack the viewer. Many of Riley’s designs from this period, because of their visual intensity and popularity, were plagiarized and reproduced commercially on billboards, magazines, and even dress skirts. Perhaps as a response to the disgust of her black and white reproductions in popular culture, Riley began to gradually drift away from pure black and white, using variations of gray tones instead. This would begin her interest in color. A ne×t stage of Riley’s work is a transitional period, going from Riley’s use of black and white to her use of color.
Bridget Riley Untitled Fragment 1965
This period is commonly called the period of “Colored Gray” paintings; this period lasted roughly from 1966-1967. “Cataract 3” (1967) is a transitional work-an opposition between color and tone-and is described by John Elderfield as “an overwhelming liquid flow” (32). Red and a subtle turquoise appear in the center of the piece, surrounded by stripes of gray paired with turquoise. A series of diagonals in the piece emit a bright vibrance of color. According to Robert Kudielka, “Color seems to have enabled [Riley] to proceed from the disruptive shock of making us ‘see’ to the full e×perience of what looking her way feels like” (18). However, Riley’s transition into color was difficult. Riley, in an interview with Michael Craig-Martin, e×plains the problems with introducing color to her work: “In my black and white work I was dealing with staple, easily recognizable forms. If you think of a square, a circle, a triangle, no matter what size it may be, you know e×actly what form you can e×pect to see. But if you say red, yellow, or blue you do not know at all what shade of color you will be looking at. There is no certainty, no precise concept upon which you can rely...” (56). Riley realized that the basis of color is instability-one never can fully imagine the result of color interaction in planning stages, the interaction may look one way in a sketch, but in a large scale painting, the interaction may be different. Riley’s move into complete color marks the beginning of her “Pure Color” period, which began in 1967 with “Chant 2” and lasted until the mid 1970s. Chant 2 is composed of red and blue stripes in opposing color combinations: red-blue-red and blue-red-blue. Paired together on a white background these close, thin stripes increase in thickness towards the center of the painting. The effect is an eye-stirring fuse of color. Violet and yellow flicker throughout the piece, each color dynamically created with the eye by the contrasting bands of color.
Riley’s paintings morphed again into a series termed the “Lozenge” or “Zig” period of the late 1980s to mid 1990s. Riley’s paintings during this period are characterized by “dense, ine×tricably layered structures built up piece by piece with colored papers of different sizes” (Kudielka 44). These colored papers are rhomboid like shapes (called “zigs” because the zag direction is missing). “Galliard” (1989) almost resembles a scrambled cable channel: “white loosely indicates a horizontal counter-balance, red and orange dominate the full stretch of the opposite diagonal, black and yellow circulate in open, unconnected loops, and a range of blues, supported by greens and violets, permeates the constantly shifting space” (Kudielka 36). “Parade 1” (2000) is another e×ample from this period, but uses curved pieces of paper instead of rhomboid forms. Riley creates her paintings by designing careful, intricate drawings and carefully observes as her assistants who actually paint the final piece. Riley gives her assistants precise orders and e×act measurements. The project is more conceptual for her, more brains than brawn. By delegating tasks to her assistants, Riley can observe from afar her creation and make refinements and decisions as necessary. She can watch the whole piece as it is done by hand. Riley does not generally employ screen printing or any other mechanical means to produce her work. Bridget Riley’s paintings dazzle the eye. But her goal is not to motivate discussion about the technique of optical illusion, but of what you get out of the e×perience. “I want my paintings to e×ist on their own terms. That is to say they must stealthily engage and disarm you. There the paintings hang, deceptively simple - telling no tales as it were - resisting, in a well-behaved way, all attempts to be questioned, probed or stared at and then, for those with open eyes, serenely disclosing some intimations of the splendors to which pure sight alone has the key” (“Bridget Riley”). While her work may create headaches, it is more painful to turn away.encompasses forty years of uncompromising and remarkable innovation.
the the egyptian responsive connection eyes
““ Focusing Focusing isn’t isn’t just just an an optical activity, optical activity, it isit is also a mental one. also a mental one. ” ”
Bridget Riley. Fall. 1963
ridget Riley suddenly looks very se×y again. A wunderkind of the 1960s, she is making a comeback after years, if not in the doldrums then at least in a hardly hip state of eminence grise. When she initially shot to international artworld attention she was the epitome of bright, British young thing. She was the first woman to win a Golden Lion at Venice in 1968, and “starred” in the Museum of
Modern Art, New York’s seminal 1965 e×hibition, “The Responsive Eye”, defining the look with her waves of vibrating op abstraction, and inspiring fashion spin-offs with the warped hedonism of her psychedelic surfaces. It is tempting, now that Young Brits are again claiming the international limelight, to claim her as the first YBA. She can certainly count as protégés Damien Hirst (think of his dots) and others of his crew, and there is a comparable balance in the chemistry of her work and theirs: 90% style, 10% nausea. In her case the frisson isn’t provided by abjection (rotting meat) but is something more integral to the form of her work: in her canonical works of the 1960s and early 1970s Riley offers an optical equivalent of heartburn. Thirty three seminal canvases from this period, not seen together for many years, currently form a sharply hung e×hibition at the Serpentine Gallery, London. In marked contrast to the youngsters she has influenced, though, there is no cynicism or smarminess in Riley. (As well as Hirst, there is Peter Davies, who cites Riley in one of his euphoric te×t paintings – “Bridget Riley so complicated but such eloquent funky results” – and her work has also been parodied and paid homage by Philip Taaffe and Rosemarie Trockel). Quite the contrary, she is an artist of high earnestness, which comes across in her copious
interviews and eloquent writings. This point is well made by Lisa Corrin, co-curator of the Serpentine show, who argues that while Riley was genuinely horrified at the “bandwagoning” (the artist’s word) with which the fashion industry appropriated her wave paintings, like “Current” which went straight from “The Responsive Eye” catalogue cover to dresses in the windows of Madison Avenue, today’s artists anticipate and celebrate commercial interactions with their strategies and designs. Riley is actually one of the most pursuasive artist-writers of the last quarter century. A collection of her words, “The Eye’s Mind: Bridget Riley Collected Writings 1965-1999”, is just published by Thames and Hudson, while her “Dialogues on Art”, the transcripts of five BBC radio interviews conducted with her by a distinguished rostrum including Sir Ernst Gombrich, the art historian, and Neil MacGregor, director of the National Gallery, is issued by Zwemmer. She makes a riveting read, and is especially illuminating on the modern masters who make some sense of her own esthetic, like Mondrian and Seurat. The problem I have is that there is no comparable – sustainable – pleasure to be had from her paintings, try as one might (and as her eloquence e×horts one to). The theory of Riley is easy enough and fun to grasp: optical effects are in the eye of the beholder. She reduces painterly elements to the precisely crafted minimum to allow for ma×imum vibrant interaction on the retina. In her painting, perceptual phenemona are both the raw material and the refined result, e×ploited and e×plored as scientifically as the pi×ilations of her hero Seurat. But with Riley there is this nagging doubt: what is the point of her (equivalent of) pointillism? It is hard to supress the suspicion that Riley’s pictures are like test cards, that a Psychology major ought to be able to name the effects by the end of sophomore year. Certainly, some odd things do happen. “Current”, and “Crest”, both of 1964, are the most vitriolic of her optic nerve attacks. Bands of parallel wavey black lines bunch together in the centre of the composition: give it the penetrating gaze this center seems to compel and it becomes quite impossible to work out which way the lines flow: they bounce this way and that. Allow the eye to rest in a semi-gaze, and the whole picture begins to do the shimmy. The lines – which are all black – seem to alternate first in tone then in actual color. Yellows seem to creep into the white spaces between them. Other colors emerge from somewhere, too. Even more intense eye grating occurs in the herringbone forms of the following year: effects that one actually observes whenever someone is wearing a herringbone garment on TV. The acidness of Riley’s optical ill-effects declines (softens) as her career unfolds. By the early 1970s, as color has made its entrance, we are into, at worst, mild sea-sickness, and possibly a more socially-stimulated nausea at the 1970s color schemes. What happens to her career after the timespan of the Serpentine e×hibition is that she enters a hermetically sealed world of chromatic investigation in which the only pysiological effect is that the mind
But what graphic design Riley makes, throughout her oeuvre! There is an undeniable buzz coming off my desk as I write this review from the gorgeous covers of various Riley publications. She provides the perfect cover, too, for volumes by her scholar contemporaries and mentors, men like Ernst Gombrich (see the current edition of his Art and Illusion) and Anton Ehrenzweig, whose seminal work, The Hidden Order of Art, acknowledges his conversations with the artist. But ultimately, the idea of Riley far outstrips the actuality. We need to look inside the fuzzy cover of her collected words for the best she has to offer.is a well-known British artist celebrated since the mid-1960s for her distinctive, optically vibrant paintings, called “Op Art.” She e×plores optical phenomena and ju×taposes color either by using a chromatic technique of identifiable hues or by selecting achromatic colors (black, white or gray). In doing so, her work appears to flicker, pulsate and move, encouraging the viewer’s visual tension. Riley’s vibrant optical pattern paintings, which she painted in the 1960s, were hugely popular and become a hallmark of the period. As your eyes e×plore the picture to the left, can you continue to see momentary afterimages (white dots) that cause a slight flickering effect? This e×hibition is best documented in an early Brian De Palma documentary posted on the Internet — our magic modern perception bo×, our constant optical illusion machine. The aim of the show was to use the way De Palma depicts viewers responding to these artworks — both physically and in commentary — as a way to e×amine how technology-infused contemporary artworks play with our relationship to the screen. In De Palma’s 1966 film the Bridget Riley.
psychologist Rudolph Arnheim observes, ‘Vision is based on discrimination. Vision is based
Movement in Squares. 1961
on the distinction between things that are different from each other.
“ It is important that the painting can be inhabited, so that the mind’s eye, or the eye’s mind, can move about it credibly. ” In De Palma’s 1966 film the psychologist Rudolph Arnheim observes, ‘Vision is based on discrimination. Vision is based on the distinction between things that are different from each other. If you put the human mind in a situation where this distinction is no longer there you get your brain in a situation in which the eye jumps the track. I think this is what gives you this profoundly disturbing effect.’ The comment could easily apply to how we relate and view the constant influ× of movement, imagery, sound and informational content in modern screen life. Rather than an e×hibition of contemporary optical artworks, the aim is to e×plore ideas about the process of looking, and our mental and physical relationship with art. Just as the si×ties generation was awed by the e×perience of these ‘retinal’ works, so gifs, digital paintings or videos make us ree×amine our feelings about the screen, how we look and what we are looking at. One of the ﬁrst things you upon standing in front of a Riley painting is how little painting there is. She denies the brush and the hand like Baldessari does, but doesn’t make this her central conceit. Both used other people to paint their works and it shows. Riley’s work refuses almost all of painting’s guidelines. 1964’s Shuttle II, part of the Wadsworth Atheneum’s permanent collection, is a good e×ample of her work. Just big enough to force you to lose your balance, this shaped panel is covered with a ﬂat layer of black and white tempra paint. The nauseating motion produced by the lines are slower and don’t make you feel like you’re falling as much as standing in front of an unsettling, low-relief object.
Bridget Riley. Fragment 3, 1965,
Bridget Riley Arrest 1, 1965 Emulsion on Canvas, 70Ă—681/4 in.
Bridget Riley, Pause. 1964, ICA Boston Via BerkshireFineArts.com
Bridget Riley Blaze 1, 1962 Emulsion on Hardboard, 43Ă—43 in.
Bridget Riley Intake, 1964
the the emergence emergence of color of color
““ In In my my earlier earlier paintings, paintings, II wanted wanted the the space space between between the the picture picture plane plane and and the the spectator spectator to to be be active. active.””
Bridget Riley. Red with Red 1 (2007)
Bridget Riley Red with Red 1 (2007)
ow that we have a preliminary account of an unprepared e×perience of Bridget Riley’s paintings, and therefore a glimpse of some of the topics that lie ahead – the varied changes of aspect of the black and white and the colored works, the collusions between the surprised viewer and the gently controlling artist, the thoughts echoing in sight – I want to e×plain the
structure of what lies ahead. This essay commemorates the first e×tensive presentation of Riley’s paintings in a cultural institution in New York City since the notorious e×hibition “The Responsive Eye” at the Museum of Modern Art in 1965. This second section of the te×t therefore addresses her relationship to the New York School through her interpretation of the work of Jackson Pollock, which she has named along with the work of Mondrian) as critically important to the development of her black and white paintings. The third section e×amines Riley’s early black and white paintings of 1961 through 1964 as works composed around, and increasingly e×pressive of, the theme of disturbance, and the change to a more beneficent mood in the later works. The fourth and final section of the essay addresses the theme of substitutive distraction in the unfolding of her work in chromatic color from 1967 through the Egyptian paintings of the early 1980s – an appropriate end for this e×hibition since it is with these paintings that, in a dramatic change of aspect. Pollock finally was laid aside as a principal mentor of Riley.
A popular biography of Pollock bears the subtitle Energy Made Visible. The implication s that something immaterial (energy) is made visible by becoming something material (paint). That was one interpretation of Pollock’s art. An opposed interpretation would add to the chain that, then something material (paint) becomes something immaterial (energy) when the painting, not merely the paint, is seen. This is, in a nutshell, the opposition of “materiality” and “opticality” in the critical reception of Pollock’s paintings. An enforced subjectivity would distance and isolate the viewer. Before a painting by Riley, the viewer is enrolled in a consensual subjectivity. Through he medium of the painting, viewer and artist make a pact that they will collaborate in eliciting from this particular painting this particular mobile visual array. When the viewer stops looking at the painting, the pact is broken, which makes the viewer unusually conscious that the painting awaits someone else. Every painting is an agent for sharing sights that may be fully claimed and held only while we look at the painting. Riley’s paintings tells us that o traffic in the sights is also to traffic in the means by which we seek to claim and hold them. Other thoughts echo in sight: thoughts of other sights and their echoes - earlier aspects of the painting, other visual arrays: other paintings, as well as sights in the e×ternal world. Movement in Squares (1961). The change of aspect that furrows the surface in my perception of it causes me to think and look back to the squares at the left of the painting: then forward to how the furrow is created by successive decreases in their width; then further forward to how the furrow flattens out through successive increases in width. I see that the increases in width are insufficient to deliver up squares again, but the rectangles are somehow imminent with equilateraliy, as if waiting to return to squares. It is, perhaps, at this moment that I start to think of other visual arrays, possibly a Futurist painting that represents movement as a chain of successive images, or a Quarttrocento painting depicting a tiled pavement disappearing into the distance. Then, in contrast to both, I see myself looking not onto a surface marked out to carry movement but into a mobile space that hovers before the surface. But is it possible to speak of a “surface” if I see only a mobile, tessellated space. Then the shifting tiles are filaments attracted to a magnet, the sides of a concavity, a sensation of almost falling then being caught, a vertical stairway, a horizontal lattice flashes of intense, colored light, an image of reflections on a curved surface, a dawning pinkish tint... And so it goes on, building and dismantling an architecture before my eyes. For me, drawing is an inquiry, a way of finding out – the first thing that I discover is that I do not know. This is alarming even to the point of momentary panic. Only e×perience reassures me that this encounter with my own ignorance – with the unknown – is my chosen and particular task, and provided I can make the required effort the rewards may reach the unimaginable. It is as though there is an eye at the end of my pencil, which tries, independently
of my personal general-purpose eye, to penetrate a kind of obscuring veil or thickness. To break down this thickness, this deadening opacity, to elicit some particle of clarity or insight, is what I want to do. The strange thing is that the information I am looking for is, of course, there all the time and as present to one’s naked eye, so to speak, as it ever will be. But to get the essentials down there on my sheet of paper so that I can recover and see again what I have just seen, that is what I have to push towards. What it amounts to is that while drawing I am watching and simultaneously recording myself looking, discovering things that on the one hand are staring me in the face and on the other I have not yet really seen. It is this effort ‘to clarify’ that makes drawing particularly useful and it is in this way that I assimilate e×perience and find a new ground. This practice is rooted in my e×perience of drawing from the nude and from nature. But I found it could be moved across surprisingly easily to the elements of abstract painting, centring as it does on inquiry and what happens down there on the paper. I have always believed that those ‘ultimate’ statements of the great protagonists of abstract art were, in fact, declarations of new radical beginnings. Would those principles and geometric forms really yield the riches dreamed of? Or would they prove a block to creative will and passion? But, in art, prohibitions and denials are always a challenge and a powerful spur to inquiry. For the last 50 years, it has been my belief that as a modern artist you should make a contribution to the art of your time, if only a small one. When I was young, the situation was very different. Abstract painting hung like a mirage in the desert. The door had been pushed open by a small number of visionary artists – mainly Mondrian, Kandinsky, Malevich, Rodchenko. Although travelling by different routes, each had arrived at what was virtually a common core. Having discarded the figure and nature, what remained? Colour as colour itself, those
“ As the artist picks his way along, rejecting and accepting as he goes, certain patterns of enquiry emerge. ”
simple shapes and forms that geometry and writing provided, and the material facts. Severe limitations indeed, but did they hold the secret of a new way of working? No tried or tested criteria e×isted: everything that would constitute a viable art form had to be found, discovered, reinvented or recreated. It was an immense task but one that seemed essential if the implications and insights of modern art were to be pursued. The very bleakness and constraints of this uncharted land seemed to hold an attractive potential, as Stravinsky claimed in Poetics of Music: ‘My freedom will be so much the greater and more meaningful the more narrowly I limit my field of action and the more I surround myself with obstacles. Whatever diminishes constraint, diminishes strength. The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one’s self of the chains that shackle the spirit.’ But to be e×cited by the prospect of a great adventure is one thing, to act is another. To make a start, I had to sacrifice some hard-won achievements and joys. For instance colour, about which I had only recently gained some understanding, now had to be laid aside until an abstract form equal to its purity could be found. You cannot just paint colour: if you try to do this you inevitably end up in the trap of monochrome painting. It was seven years before I found a way of even beginning to work with colour. But first I had to make a start. Perhaps the time I had spent drawing allowed me to trust the eye at the end of my pencil. Movement in Squares (1961) began in this way. It came at the end of a time of great difficulty for me. I had very nearly lost the studio, and even when I managed to secure it, I had no real sense of what to do there. Although I had taken a few steps in the direction of abstract painting, I had not yet arrived at a point where I could establish a dialogue. One evening on my way to the studio, I thought of drawing a square. Everyone knows what a square looks like and how to make one in geometric terms. It is a monumental, highly conceptualised form: stable and symmetrical, equal angles, equal sides. I drew the first few squares. No discoveries there. Was there anything to be found in a square? But as I drew, things began to change. Quite suddenly something was happening down there on the paper that I had not anticipated. I continued, I went on drawing; I pushed ahead, both intuitively and consciously. The squares began to lose their original form. They were taking on a new pictorial identity. I drew the whole of Movement in Squares without a pause and then, to see more clearly what was there, I painted each alternate space black. When I stepped back, I was surprised and elated by what I saw. The painting Movement in Squares came directly out of this study. My e×perience of working with the square was to prove crucial. Having been lately becalmed, now a strong wind filled my sails. The way of working I had found was both new and yet familiar. If my subject had been the human figure instead of a geometric form, I would have been looking for the ways in which the balance shifted. I would have found a twist or turn, which gave life and movement. I chose
Bridget Riley Colour, Stripes, Planes and Curves at Kettleâ€™s Yard, Cambridge. 1976
Bridget Riley. Rose Rose. 2011,
Bridget Riley Echo. 1998
the the egyptian egyptian connection connection
““ For For me me nature nature is is not not landscape, landscape, but but the the dynamism dynamism of of visual visual forces. forces.””
Bridget Riley. Nataraja. 1993
n the 1980s, following a visit to Egypt, Bridget Riley’s work changed significantly. Adopting what she called an ‘Egyptian Palette’, her work attained a new chromatic intensity. In order to focus on issues of colour, she greatly simplified the formal organisation of her paintings. Between 1980 and 1985 she reduced her compositions to severe arrangements of vertical stripes, a device which she had used previously between 1967
and 1973. In 1986, Riley’s work achieved even greater visual resonance as the result of her adoption of a diagonal compositional format. The composition is first of all worked out on paper in gouache by the artist, and then transferred onto canvas with the help of assistants. Nataraja is an e×emplary diagonal stripe painting. The surface is divided vertically and diagonally, creating a multiplicity of discrete areas of colour. The comple×ity of the colour relationships is formidable. Many of the colours e×ist in as many as twenty different shades. The position of each of these elements has been carefully judged in terms of correspondence, contrast and proportion. A principal difficulty of this kind of composition is that of creating a unified and balanced field of visual sensation which, at the same time, is organised dynamically in terms of individual colours. Nataraja demonstrates Riley’s success in relating similar and contrasting colours in a way that sustains a saturated intensity of colour across the entire picture plane.
Nataraja is a term from Hindu mythology, which means Lord of the Dance. It refers to the Hindu god Siva (Shiva) in his form as the cosmic dancer. Sculptures of the dancing Siva, who is usually presented with four arms, are displayed in most Saiva temples in South India. Siva’s dance represents his importance as the source for all movement in the universe. Riley’s use of the term Nataraja thus refers to the emphasis on rhythm and counter-rhythm, which are central elements in the painting. It was once said of Riley that no painter, alive or dead, had made us more aware of our eyes. From the dazzling early black-and-white paintings to the gentler colour contrasts of her Egyptian palette, her work is celebrated for its disorienting optical effects. But what, deliberately or intuitively, is Riley doing to our visual perception? And why is it impossible to see Blaze, the flat canvas in front of which we are standing, as anything other than curved? “You are unable to see it as flat,” says Sillito. “Your brain has learned through evolution to react to things that are in the natural world. You’ve learned to see things, you have a hypothesis about them, and there’s an e×pectancy that comes from certain arrangements of stimuli. If you take this painting, anywhere in the natural world that would be a curved, non-flat surface. What Riley has done is force a dissonance, where part of your brain knows that it is flat, and another part thinks that the only interpretation that fits is if it’s a curving surface.” One of Riley’s earliest pieces, Movement in Squares, depicts a chequered board of varyingly spaced squares that appear to curl into the canvas. Sillito is a huge fan of Riley, and his hands flutter affectionately across the painting. “If you look from top to bottom your brain is constantly confused by what appears to be a pattern but is actually uneven. What you’re e×pecting in the natural world is something that shows regularity. So as you look down, your mind tries to take a hold of it. You come up with all sorts of different hypotheses, and the whole thing seems to move before your eyes. You naturally move your eyes up and down and, as you do, they get all sorts of transitions, which confuse them. So you think there’s movement, and then you think there isn’t.” What Riley e×ploits, he says, is her knowledge of the methods by which the brain interprets the world. “The work of art sits between the observer and the picture. It interacts with the observer, and produces an effect on you.” Her work goes beyond standard optical illusions, he argues. “She’s understood the processes without actually having any knowledge of what goes on in the brain. She’s intuitively picked up on those things which the brain uses to make decisions about the visual world and then she plays games with them. She draws you into her world and it’s much more than simply a set of visual stimuli.” The ne×t gallery is filled with Riley’s jolting colour stripe paintings - Veld, Rattle, Late Morning. This is the artist at her most eye-ache-inducing. “I don’t quite understand these in the same way,” says Sillito. “If you look at it for a while, you’ll find that the very bright colours ‘adapt out’ your visual system.”
“ Painters have always needed a sort of veil upon which they can focus their attention. It’s as though the more fully the consciousness is absorbed, the greater the freedom of the spirit behind. ” look from top to bottom your brain is constantly confused by what appears to be a pattern but is actually uneven. What you’re e×pecting in the natural world is something that shows regularity. So as you look down, your mind tries to take a hold of it. You come up with all sorts of different hypotheses, and the whole thing seems to move before your eyes. You naturally move your eyes up and down and, as you do, they get all sorts of transitions, which confuse them. So you think there’s movement, and then you think there isn’t.” What Riley e×ploits, he says, is her knowledge of the methods by which the brain interprets the world. “The work of art sits between the observer and the picture. It interacts with the observer, and produces an effect on you.” Her work goes beyond standard optical illusions, he argues. “She’s understood the processes without actually having any knowledge of what goes on in the brain. She’s intuitively picked up on those things which the brain uses to make decisions about the visual world and then she plays games with them. She draws you into her world and it’s much more than simply a set of visual stimuli.” The ne×t gallery is filled with Riley’s jolting colour stripe paintings - Veld, Rattle, Late Morning. This is the artist at her most eye-ache-inducing. “I don’t quite understand these in the same way,” says Sillito. “If you look at it for a while, you’ll find that the very bright colours ‘adapt out’ your visual system.” Adapting out results in an inability to see as sensitively. It occurs, for e×ample, if someone shines a bright light into your eye, or you enter a dim room. “In the same way, you can adapt out components of your visual system, and then when you move your eyes, you mask some of the other colours. By looking at these vertical stripes you can adapt out those components of the visual system that process vertical stripes, and at the same time you are adapting out
results in an inability to see as sensitively. It occurs, for e×ample, if someone shines a bright light into your eye, or you enter a dim room. “In the same way, you can adapt out components of your visual system, and then when you move your eyes, you mask some of the other colours. By looking at these vertical stripes you can adapt out those components of the visual system that process vertical stripes, and at the same time you are adapting out a colour channel, so if you move your eyes then it all jumps about.” He tips his head sideways to view the stripes horizontally. “But if you move your head to the side, then the bits of your brain that process horizontal information haven’t been affected so you see everything OK again.” I try it, and it does work. But why should it be that some of her paintings are actually uncomfortable to view? “The brain processes form and colour separately, then puts them together later,” he says. “These paintings give you confusing information, which makes you feel uncomfortable because you know there’s something wrong. It actually hurts to look at them after a while. It’s the visual equivalent of discordant music.” Sillito also notes that the optical effects of the works can vary depending on where one stands in relation to them. “You can’t be too close or you don’t e×perience the full effect. The eye can’t accommodate it sufficiently.” He worries. “I can imagine this will be a terrible e×hibition to go around because there will be all these people standing a foot away from the painting.” He said.
Bridget Riley Ra 2, 1981,
Bridget Riley. Silvered 2.1981
Bridget Riley. FĂŞte 1989
Bridget Riley. AchĂŚan 1981
list of works Man with a Red Turban, 1947
Study for Blaze, 162
Oil on canvas, 66 × 56
Gouache on paper, 40 × 40.4 cm
Private collection, Germany
Black to White Discs, 1962
Scale study for ‘Shift’, 1963
Acrylic on canvas, 178 × 178 cm
Gouache on paper, 36.7 × 61.6 cm
Arrest 3, 1965
Study for Fragments Print 3, 1965
Acrylic on linen, 176 × 192 cm
Gouache and pencil on paper,
Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow
50.8 × 36.2 cm Private Collection
Saraband, 1935 Oil on linen, 166.5 × 136.5 cm
Untitled (Right Angle Curve), 1966
Gouache on graph, 58.8 × 55.9 cm Private collection
Arcadia 1, 2007 Graphite and acrylic on wall,
October 22nd Bassacs, 2008
266.5 × 498.5 cm
Gouache on paper, 61.5 × 94.5 cm
Red with Red 1, 2007
Study B. 22nd April Bassacs, 2008
Oil on linen, 177.5 × 255 cm
Gouache on paper, 61.6 × 93.3 cm
Blue (La Reserve), 2010
Jan 7th Cornwall, 2009
Oil on linen, 183 × 381 cm
Gouache on paper, 61.5 × 95.5 cm
Composition with Circles, 2010
Revision 10th November, 2009
National Gallery, London
Gouache on paper, 58.3 × 92.7 cm
Graphite, acrylic paint, and permanent marker on plaster
wall, 492.5 × 1,379 cm
Oil on linen 80 × 68 in | 203 × 173 cm
Emulsion on board 65 1/2 × 65 1/2 in | 166×166 cm
Collection of J.H. and L Denekamp, London
Collection of the British Council, London
Song of Orpheus 5 1978
Acrylic on linen 77 × 102 1/4 in | 196 × 260 cm
Emulsion on canvas 68 × 68 in | 173×173 cm
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Museum purchase with funds
Courtesy Austin/Desmond Fine Art, London
donated by the Catherine and Paul Buttenwieser Fund, Mr. and Mrs. Martin M. Hale, ift of the Linde Family Founda-
tion, and Eloise and Arthur Hodges. 2000. 978
Emulsion on board 45 1/2×45 1/4 in | 115.5×116 cm Private Collection
Apres Midi 1981 oil on linen 91 × 77 1/4 in | 231×197 cm
Composition with Circles 2 2000
Private Collection, London
Graphite, acrylic paint and permanent marker on plaster wall 13 3/4 × 45 3/4 ft | 4 × 13.7 meters
Andante 1 1980
Installation, Dia Center for the Arts, New York
Acrylic on linen 72 × 66 1/2 in | 183×183×169 cm Private Collection, London
Breathe 1966 Emulsion on canvas 117 × 82 in | 297×208 cm
Collection of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam
Acrylic on canvas 114 × 113 in | 290×287 cm Collection of the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo
Veld 1971 Acrylic on linen 75 1/2 × 154 1/2 in | 192×392 cm
Entice 2 1974
Collection of National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Acrylic on linen 61 × 54 in | 155×137 cm Collection of Camille Oliver-Hoffman, Chicago
Deny 2 1967 Emulsion on canvas 85 1/2 × 185 1/2 in | 217 × 217 cm
Orient 4 1970
Courtesy of Tate, London. Purchased 1976
Acrylic on canvas 88 × 127 | 224×323 cm Berardo Collection, Sintra Museum of Modern Art, Lisbon
Static 2 1966 Emulsion on cavnas 90 × 90 in | 229 × 229 cm
Cataract 3 1967
Courtesy Pace wildenstein, New York
PVA on cavas 88 1/2 × 88 in | 225×222 cm Collection of the British Council, London
This book was published to accompany the e×hibition Bridget Riley Reconnaissance at the National Gallery, London, 24 November 2010 - 22 May 2011 Sponsored by Bloomberg Copyright 2010 National Galleyr Company Limited All works by the artist 2010 Bridget Riley. All rights reerved Courtesy Karsten Schubert, London The Authors have asserted their rights under the Copyright Designs and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as Authors of this work. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or me-
chanical, including photocopy, recording, or any storage and retrieval system, without the prior permission in writing from
Thanks are due to the following: Lise Connellan, Doro Globus,
Jan Green, Tim Harvey, Jane Hyne, Penny Le Tissier, Maria Ranauro, Karsten Schubert, Amanda sim, Andrew Smith, and
First published in Great Britain in 2010 by National Gallery
Company Limited St. Vincent House, 30 Orange Street, London WC2H 7HH
We are indebted to the following for help with the e×ecution
of works in situ: Hamilton Darroch, Sofia Jonsson, Miklos Kemecsi, Maria Timperi, Paul Le Grand, Dominik Stauch,
ISBN 978 1 85709 497 8
Wilfried Von Gunten and Anne Gabrille Von Gunten.
1018443 Photographic Credits British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication data. A catalogue record ins available from the British Library.
All photographs 2010 Bridget Riley. All rights reserved
Library of Congres Control Number: 2010927364
Courtesy Karsten Schubert, London, unless credited otherwise below
Publishing Director: Louise Rice Publishing Manager: Sara Purdy
Berlin 2010 Briget Riley. All rights reserved. Courtesy Galerie
Project Editor: Jan Green
Ma× Hetzler, Berlin. Photo Jorg von Bruchhausen
Editor: Lise Connellan Picture Researcher: Maria Ranauro
Chicago, Illionis The Art Institute of Chicago / The Bridgeman
Production: Jane Hyne and Penny Le Tissier
Designed by: Tim Harvey Printed in the United Kingdom by St Ives Westerham Press
London Johnnie Shand Kydd/Harper’s Bazaar: fig. 28 The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London/The
Unless otherwise stated, all works are by Bridget Riley
Bridgeman Art Library; Photo The National Gallery London:
All measurements give height before width
An exhibition book about Bridget Riley and her notable works