Bridget Riley b. 1931


The Artist


London, Karsten Schubert, Bridget Riley, Paintings and Gouaches 1979-80 & 2011, 7 October - 29 November 2011, illus colour p30


Between the mid 1970s and 1980, Bridget Riley reintroduced the curve into her paintings, in order to develop her exploration of colour interaction and its relationship with light. The result is a body of work that reveals new levels of complexity in terms of formal experiments as well as poetic presence. Series 41 Blue Added (b) single reverse, painted in 1980, is a wonderful example of this. By treating the curve as a rhythmic vehicle, which broke down the assertive structure of the stripe paintings, Riley was able to reach new heights of colour interaction. The curve meant that new colour relationships could become 'released' and could react together within the more dynamic composition.

Underlying this was Riley's discovery that the length of the edge is crucial in facilitating this flux and as such the pictures are made up of ‘twisted’ curves. As Riley explained,
‘When colours are twisted along the rise and fall of a curve their juxtapositions change continuously. There are innumerable sequences each of which throws up a different sensation. From these I build up clusters which then flow one into another almost imperceptibly.’
(Bridget Riley in conversation with Robert Kudieka, 1978, ‘Into Colour’ Robert Kudielka on Bridget Riley, Essays and interviews 1972- 2003, p.74)
In Series 41 Blue Added (b) single reverse, the lines of the curve dissolve and expand continuously, rippling across the canvas like water and recalling the vibrancy and movement found in nature. This sensation, that the work is in constant flux, is enhanced by the complex colour arrangement of the work. In 1978, Riley painted Songs of Orpheus, expanding the number of colours that she would use in a painting from three to five. The same colours, violet, blue, green, yellow and pink first used in Songs of Orpheus can be found two years later in the colour arrangement of Series 41 Blue Added (b) single reverse.

Whilst the resulting paintings offer the viewer a deeply sensory and emotional experience, the artist's methods are based on the rational. Each colour is chosen and placed in the paintings subject to their postion in the colour circle and it is on this basis that they are able to interact with one another. As the artist explained,

‘Each relate to one another in such a way that, if one assembles them as they would be in the colour circle, they describe the shape of a pentagon. Each colour is in such a position that its complementary would be exactly between the two colours opposite… For example magenta, the complementary to the painted green, would lie between the actual violet and pink if it were painted. However, as it is not painted it is instead evoked by the colours present. At the same time, neighbouring complementaries are fusing visually: if the yellow is next to the pink the fugitive orange appears; and again, if that same yellow is bordered by the green or even by the blue, different yellow-greens appear. So I am dealing with both at once - the fusion of harmonies and the evocation of complementaries.’

(Bridget Riley in conversation with Robert Kudieka, 1978, ‘Into Colour’ Robert Kudielka on Bridget Riley, Essays and interviews 1972- 2003, p.76)

The simultaneous contrast of these colours moving together, side by side, and the play of light that is created by this movement is truly mesmerising. Riley’s curve paintings have been referred to as some of her most emotionally radiant and this is an extremely important point. The formal experimentation that exists in Riley’s work and her desire to root them in a sensory experience is central to her work. However, as these paintings reveal, their ability to evoke references to music, nature and poetry is also paramount to their understanding. As Riley explained,

‘My paintings are, of course, concerned with generating visual sensations, but certainly not to the exclusion of emotion. One of my aims is that these two responses shall be experienced as one and the same.’

(Paul Moorhouse, Bridget Riley, Tate Publishing, London, 2003, p.21)