Bridget Riley b. 1931


During the late 1980s Riley’s work underwent a significant change. She began to break up the vertical stripes which had characterised her paintings in the 1970s and early 1980s, by introducing opposing diagonal forces into her compositions. The irregular parallelogram shapes which this produced had the effect of animating the vertical stripes, breaking up what had become for the artist, too rigid a format. This change in Riley’s working practice has been discussed by the artist:
‘I wanted to get involved with the problems of painting in a plastic sense- building different places, layering depths and trying to provide multiple visual readings. But first I had to give up some staple tenets of my work which I had long held. The most difficult to forego was colour interaction, which although still present is no longer so dominant. This entailed shifting my work over from a perceptual orientation to one of sensation. It was less a question of ‘release from constraints’ than of developing a new range of criteria.’ (Bridget Riley in conversation with Isabel Carlisle, Bridget Riley, Works 1961- 1998, p10) Where her previous works focused predominantly on harmonious colour interactions, in this new series of paintings, contrasting colours were now used to fragment, animate and, ultimately, create a multi-layered composition, which could be experienced on a number of levels.
Riley has stated that,
'If I am outside in nature I do not look for something or at things. I try to absorb sensations without censoring them, without identifying them. I want them to come out through the pores of my eyes, as it were - on a particular level of their own.' (Bridget Riley, Bridget Riley, Dialogues on Art, 1995, pp 79-80) Riley’s desire to communicate this all-encompassing visual experience came, in part, from her trip to Egypt in 1979-80. The vivid colours that she encountered everywhere and the brilliant light which invigorated them, had a direct impact on her work. After her return to England she began what is now known as her Egyptian series, introducing a more complex colour palette into her work. In these paintings Riley was still only employing vertical stripes in her compositions. However, as her palette intensified, she looked to the diagonal forms, present in Study for Gaillard, 1989, in order to explore the new spatial illusions produced by these more complex colour co-ordinations.
In the present work a plethora of colours are composed in a complex patchwork of contrasting tones, which lead the eye around the work in random movements. No one colour dominates, and instead, a more unstable composition is created in which colours recede and spring forward in uneven rhythms. One’s experience of the work is not straight-forward or rational, rather the viewer must rely on a more instinctual and sensory approach to the image before them. As Riley has said, 'The colours of such works are organised on the canvas so that the eye can travel over the surface in a way parallel to the way it moves over nature. It should feel caressed and soothed, experience frictions and ruptures, glide and drift...One moment there will be nothing to look at and the next second the canvas suddenly seems to refill, to be crowded with visual events.' (Bridge Riley 'The Pleasures of Sight'. 1984, in The Eye's Mind, op cit, p. 33)