Bridget Riley b. 1931


Juda Rowan Gallery, London.
Galerie Konstruktiv Tendens, Stockholm

Private Collection, since 1988


Stockholm, Galerie Konstruktiv Tendens, Bridget Riley, 1987, number untraced


The Stripe studies and paintings … `made between 1980 and 1985 reveal a progressive structural reorganisation and in that sense they are an important watershed in Riley's work. They form a passage from the perceptual - optically meditated - character of her art before 1980, to her work from the early 1980s onwards which addresses pure sensation directly : visual experience as a direct response to the source' (Ed. P. Moorhouse, Bridget Riley, Tate Britain, London, June - September 2003, p22).

Study for Praise, 1981, was one of a series of works conceived soon after Riley's travels in Egypt in the winter of 1979-80. During that trip Riley visited the Nile Valley and the museum at Cairo, studying at first hand, the ancient burial sites and temples of Egypt. Riley was enthralled by the consistency of palette used by the Egyptians to paint their gods, temples, to decorate their furniture, tone their motorized vehicles and adorn their jewellery and pottery. The brilliance of this palette of red, yellow, turquoise, green, black and white was further enhanced by the Mediterranean light and appealed deeply to the artist. On her return to London, Riley found that these colours continued to exercise a fascination. Any possibility of using them in her work was, however, tempered by the concern of appropriation. On recreating these colours, these `hang-ups' diminished, although she felt it was important to work from memory, rather than copying the 'Egyptian palette' (as coined by Riley) from reproductions in books.

While still limited in number, this range of `Egyptian' colours needed a formal vehicle that was simpler than the curve (which Riley had been using for the last six years). For this reason, Riley made the decision to revisit the colour stripe which she had used in her work since the mid-1970s. The stripe, a more neutral form, offered the longest edge and, hence, the optimum choice to align different colours `side-by-side' to achieve Riley's quest for optical resonance.

In Study for Praise, each of Riley's 'Egyptian' colours retains its individual brilliance and tonal value, whilst simultaneously interacting with the colours immediately adjacent to it, in order to generate an increased level of light. Furthermore, colour interactions can now take place right across the sheet. In Study for Praise, an elusive turquoise on one side of the sheet pulls out the echoing turquoise on the other and the presence of a single black line darkens and advances all colours in its vicinity.

The present work is a full working study for the painting Praise (sold Sotheby's, November 2011 realising 361,250.00 GBP). The title alludes directly to Riley's trip to Egypt, conjuring up visual sensations of the colours eclipsing Egyptians whilst in prayer to their gods. Riley painted approximately six of these studies each week, of which perhaps only one might be exhibited or sold.

To understand the full significance of this trip to Egypt and Study of Praise in terms of Bridget Riley's development as a painter, it is important to touch upon her works from the early 1960s. Since the very beginning of her career, Riley sought out an equivalent pictorial means to turn away from literal depiction and create a mode of painting that was capable of stirring and containing visual sensation. In her first black and white paintings of the 1960s, the basis of her work was to express an emotional state of being using contrasting shapes in black and white. The repetition of similar elements (e.g. lines, triangles, circles & curves) sought to overload the viewer's eye with information creating an unsettling perceptual experience.

In 1967 Riley introduced colour into her work for the first time. Colour was used until 1980 as a tool to demonstrate the perception of colour, and further, to convey an experience of light. This was neatly summed up by Bridget Riley:

`I don't paint light. I present a colour situation which releases light when you look at it' (ibid. p18).

However, from early 1980, the passage from the perceptual - optically meditated - character of her art had now developed into work that came from a direct, tangible, source of inspiration. The merits of this development are embodied in such works as Study for Praise.