On view across both floors of the Scottish National Gallery, Bridget Riley presents more than seventy years of work demonstrating the artist’s dedication to the interaction of form and color and its influence on human perception; as Riley wrote in an essay titled "The Pleasures of Sight" in 1984, which is reprinted in the catalogue for this exhibition, "Long before I ever saw a major painting … I had been fortunate enough to discover what ‘looking’ can be—sometimes in a mere glance one can see more than in the close scrutiny of a thousand details.… I discovered that I was painting in order to ‘make visible.’"
The selection of works on view at the Scottish National Gallery places particular emphasis on the beginnings of Riley’s practice through early works on paper—many of which have never been shown publicly before. Highlights among some fifty paintings being presented will be Pink Landscape (1960), attesting to Riley’s long-standing engagement with the work of Georges Seurat—who, as she wrote in 1992, "looks into perception … by holding up a sort of mirror." Riley’s interaction with Seurat’s work dates back to her early training as an artist, when she copied Seurat’s Bathers at Asnières (1884) at The National Gallery in London. Other important works from the 1960s include her first abstract paintings, Kiss and Movement in Squares (both 1961). Late Morning (1967–1968) and Rise 1 (1968) are pivotal works that were first shown at the Venice Biennale in 1968, where Riley became the first contemporary British painter to win the International Prize for painting.
Riley’s investigation of color is traced in this show through early examples of her stripe paintings and "curve" paintings of the 1970s like Persephone 2 (1970), Aubade (1975), and Clepsydra (1976). Later works such as Ra (1981) mark her return to striped compositions using what the artist has called her "Egyptian" palette of blue, red, yellow, green, black, and white, which was inspired by a visit to Egypt in 1980. These colors are also used in a mural titled Royal Liverpool University Hospital, 1983, as wall painting, Bolt of Colour, 2017, currently on view at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas. The most recent works in the Scottish National Gallery show include the black and white painting Cascando (2015) and examples from Measure for Measure, a recent series of disc paintings, both of which featured in Riley’s solo exhibition at David Zwirner in London last year. Colored discs are also used in a wall painting titled Messengers that went on permanent view at The National Gallery in London in January 2019.
Following its presentation at the Scottish National Gallery, Bridget Riley will travel to the Hayward Gallery in London, where it will be shown from October 23, 2019, through January 26, 2020. The London exhibition features new wall paintings made specifically for the Hayward Gallery. The exhibitions are accompanied by a major new publication that includes new and archival texts by writers such as Robert Kudielka, who has written extensively on Riley’s work, and David Sylvester, whose review of the artist’s first solo exhibition (at Gallery One in London in 1962) is reprinted in the book. Noting "an unusually good first one-man show," Sylvester describes an element in Riley’s work that is "not only imaginative in conception but has the sort of rightness in its placing that a good actor has in his timing—it seems at once unexpected and inevitable."
Image: Bridget Riley, High Sky, 1991
A new mural by Bridget Riley will be unveiled today at The National Gallery in London. Titled Messengers, the mural spans ten by twenty meters (approximately thirty-three by sixty-six feet) inside the museum’s Annenberg Court, an interior space connecting the Level 2 galleries with visitor facilities on the ground floor and the Getty Entrance; upon entering the gallery from Trafalgar Square, the mural will be one of the first artworks encountered. To date, the artist has completed a number of site-specific murals, beginning in 1983 with a commission for the Royal Liverpool University Hospital that recently inspired a new wall work at Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas.
Large colored discs in The National Gallery mural are based on recent wall paintings and works on canvas presented in the artist’s 2018 solo exhibition at David Zwirner in London. While new to Riley’s lexicon, the motif of the disc has its basis in the artist’s Deny paintings from 1966, which feature gridded circular forms. Painted directly on the walls of The National Gallery, the discs float, cloudlike, against a white background. The title Messengers is inspired by a phrase the British painter John Constable (1776–1837) used when referring to clouds, which feature prominently in the landscapes for which he is best known. Fascinated by the effects of weather on light and atmosphere, Constable called himself "the man of clouds" in a letter to John Fisher in 1823.
Although abstract, Riley’s work is also grounded in observation of the natural world, which she understands in terms of "the dynamism of visual forces—an event rather than an appearance." In a text written by the artist in 1984 called "The Pleasures of Sight," Riley describes her childhood discovery of "what ‘looking’ can be" as a crucial foundation for her artistic practice: "Changing seas and skies, a coastline ranging from the grand to the intimate …; what I experienced there [in Cornwall, UK] formed the basis of my visual life.… Swimming through the oval, saucer-like reflections, dipping and flashing on the sea surface, one traced the colours back to the origins.… Some came directly from the sky and different coloured clouds, some from the golden greens of the vegetation growing on the cliffs, some from the red-orange of the seaweed on the blues and violets of adjacent rocks, and, all between, the actual hues of the water."
Messengers also takes as a point of departure the work of Georges Seurat (1859–1891), who has been an important influence on Riley’s continued exploration of perception through the interaction of form and color. As Riley wrote in 1992, "Seurat looks into perception … by holding up a sort of mirror; and what we see is ourselves looking." Riley’s interaction with Seurat’s work in The National Gallery collection dates back to her early training as an artist, when she copied Seurat’s Bathers at Asnières (1884). For Daniel Herrmann, The National Gallery’s curator of special projects, Messengers "acts as a bridge between the Old Masters in our collection and contemporary art.” Riley served as a trustee of the gallery for several years and describes its collection as having been “a guiding star” throughout her career, “its pictures like a compass, sources of instruction and inspiration."
Image: Installation view, Bridget Riley: Recent Paintings 2014–2017, David Zwirner, London, 2017
Cover Image: Bridget Riley with Messengers, Annenberg Court, The National Gallery, London, 2019. © 2019 Bridget Riley. All rights reserved. Photo: The National Gallery, London
April 14–August 26, 2018
Bridget Riley: Paintings from the 1960s to the Present was the first major museum presentation of the artist’s work in Japan since Bridget Riley: Works 1959–78 at the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo in 1980. The exhibition included more than thirty works, ranging from black-and-white examples created in the 1960s to recent wall paintings, and drew heavily from extensive museum holdings of the artist’s works in a consortium of Japanese museums.
The exhibition was curated by Kiyoko Maeda, and is accompanied by a publication.
On view through 2019
A new large-scale multicolored wall painting by Bridget Riley is on view at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas. Titled Royal Liverpool University Hospital, 1983, as wall painting, Bolt of Colour, 2017, the mural has been conceived specifically for the museum’s special exhibition building and spans six of the eight walls of the structure, making it Riley’s largest work to date.
Wall Painting, Royal Liverpool Hospital 1983-2017 references the first wall painting the artist created in response to an invitation from the Royal Liverpool Hospital in the United Kingdom in 1979. Like the original commission, the design for which was completed in 1983, the new mural at the Chinati Foundation uses a palette of blue, red, yellow, green, black, and white inspired by a visit the artist made to Egypt in 1980. The wall paintings in Liverpool and Marfa share similarities in terms of scale and spatial orientation, while both Egypt and the high desert area where the Chinati Foundation is located feature strong natural light.
The desire to be a painter may spring from any of several sources. One might be stirred by other paintings seen in an art gallery or a private house—or one may be prompted by a wish for self-expression, a longing to convey something deeply felt. It may have come from a need to make an artefact, to build or fabricate, to shape and organise so as to bring a new entity into existence, to even simply from the pleasure of painting itself. All these reasons may play a part but in my case there was an additional one, and that was sight.
Long before I ever saw a major painting, felt the need to share an experience, knew the excitement of invention or painted my first watercolor, I had been fortunate enough to discover what "looking" can be—sometimes in a mere glance one can see more than in the close scrutiny of a thousand details.
I spent my childhood in Cornwall, which of course was an ideal place in which to make such discoveries. Changing seas and skies, a coastline ranging from the grand to the intimate, bosky woods and secretive valleys; what I experienced there formed the basis of my visual life.
Swimming through the oval, saucer-like reflections, dipping and flashing on the sea surface, one traced the colors back to the origins of those reflections. Some came directly from the sky and different colored clouds, some from the golden greens of the vegetation growing on the cliffs, some from the red-orange of the seaweed on the blues and violets of adjacent rocks, and, all between, the actual hues of the water, according to its various depths and over what it was passing. The entire elusive, unstable, flicking complex subject to the changing qualities of the light itself. On a fine day, for instance, all was bespattered with the glitter of bright sunlight and its tiny pinpoints of virtually black shadow—it was as though one was swimming through a diamond.
Taking dawn-walks over the cliffs when one's footsteps left a curiously flat heavy green mark in the pearly turquoise of the dew.
Looking directly into the sun over a foreshore of rocks exposed by the tide—all reduced to a violent black and white contrast, interspersed, here and there, by the glitter of water.
Delving into the minute grey and yellow word of the lichens, which encrust rocks and stems of trees like the work of the finest gold- and silver-smiths, setting off the sudden green of a patch of moss.
Dipping a bucket into shadowed water and suddenly seeing a right blue patch of reflected sky appear in the broken surface.
Going up and down valleys and around twisting corners there was a constant interchange of horizon lines, cliff-tops and brows of hills—narrow slivers of color rhythmically weaving and layering, edge against edge. And sometimes, on turning into a completely different aspect of the landscape, which—especially if this sun was behind—one encountered almost as though the new view was a monumental edifice, so flat and dense did the color seem.
Gazing at the reflected blue of the sky in a sandy pool which turns from pale yellow through jade to turquoise unexpectedly accommodating a curious compound, a non-color resembling ashy grey.
Seeing first the white of foam, the blues of sea and sky through the delicate tracery of a row of bare trees in winter and then seeing the same view uninterrupted. In one context a wide expanse receding towards a distant horizon, in the other a vertical 'cloisonné' of brilliant fragmented color.
Walking over the cliffs on a windy day—the rough grass snaking before one as though so many tiny silver pennants were fastened to the earth.
Noticing how the green of the tamarisk appears more yellow against the blue of the sea than it does against the greys of landscape.
Watching the narrow dark streaks of ruffled water—violets, blues and many shades of grey—as a sudden squall swept over the sea.
But whatever the occasion might be, the pleasures of sight have one characteristic in common—they take you by surprise. They are sudden, swift and unexpected. If one tries to prolong them, recapture them or bring them about wilfully their purity and freshness is lost. They are essentially enigmatic and elusive. One can stare at a landscape, for example, which a moment ago seemed vibrant and find it inert and dull—so one cannot say that this lively quality of sight is simply 'out there in nature,' or easily available to be commanded as wished. Nor is it a state of mind which, once acquired, can bend the most stubborn and unrewarding aspect of external reality to its own purposes. It is neither the one nor the other but a perfect balance between the two, between the inner and the outer. This balance is a sort of convergence which releases a particular alchemy, momentarily turning the commonplace into the ravishing.
Naturally, as a child one is more open to such experiences. When one gets older these tend to take place less often—that is they seldom appear any longer as pure revelations. But this does not mean that one has come to see things as they really are or any more truthfully. The damage is mostly done by the daily round with its heavy load of pressures and preoccupations which comes between, like a plate glass window, and through which one can certainly see but through which no vision can penetrate.
It seems to me that an artist's work lies here. I realised partly through my own experience and partly through the great masters of Modern art that it was not the actual sea, the individual rocks or valleys in themselves which constituted the essence of vision but that they were agents of a greater reality, of the bridge which sight throws from our inner-most heart to the furthest extension of that which surrounds us.
I discovered that I was painting in order to 'make visible.' On one hand I had to make something which had this essential quality of precipitating itself as 'surprise' and, simultaneously, there was no way of knowing with what one was dealing until it existed; so that in order to see one had to paint and through that activity found what could be seen.
The black and white paintings which I did in the Sixties laid bare this circular process. People found them hard to understand because the elements I used seemed far removed from the experience they produced. Habitually people expect to recognise in a painting something already known in a literal sense. I wanted to bring about some fresh way of seeing again what had already almost certainly been experienced, but which had either been dismissed or buried by the passage of time; that thrill of pleasure which sight itself reveals.
Color is the proper means for what I want to do because it is prone to inflections and inductions existing only through relationship; malleable yet tough and resilient. I do not select single colors but rather pairs, triads, or groups of color which taken together act as generators of what can be seen through or via the painting. By which I mean that the colors 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 ad soothed, experience frictions and ruptures, glide and drift. Vision can be arrested, tripped up or pulled back in order to float free again. It encounters reflections, echoes and fugitive flickers which when traced evaporate. One moment there will be nothing to look at and there next second the canvas suddenly seems to refill, to be crowded with visual events.
More than anything else I want my paintings to exist 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.
The Bridget Riley Art Foundation and Thames & Hudson are pleased to announce the release of Bridget Riley: The Complete Paintings.
Weighing nearly 50 lbs, this expansive catalogue assembles Riley’s remarkable oeuvre for the first time. Designed by Tim Harvey, Bridget Riley: The Complete Paintings has been edited by art historian and critic Robert Kudielka, who has known the artist since 1967 and is a leading expert on her work, along with Riley’s archivists Alexandra Tommasini and Natalia Nash.
The publication is spread across five volumes that span specific periods in the artist’s career: 1959 to 1973, 1974 to 1997, 1998 to 2009, 2009 to 2017, and early work from 1946 to 1958. More than 650 color illustrations explore works made on canvas, board, and the wall, as well as major large-scale commissions. Drawing on Riley’s historic archive of large-format transparencies, contemporary photography, and newly commissioned photographs by Anna Arca, this compendium includes many works that have never before been published, and demonstrates the artist’s active engagement with color over more than half a century.
"Through details you see the scale these paintings have," Kudielka says, "a sense of what is in front of you when you see a real painting." In lush spreads, close-ups of color sequences from the works are reproduced at their actual size. "I wanted the books to be attractive in themselves," Harvey, who has designed over a dozen publications of Riley’s work, explained, "but they also had to work as an accessible resource. I was keen to make good use of the archive of photographs of Bridget from the 1950s to the present day [Volume 5], to show her working environments and how various photographers, including J.S. Lewinski and [Lord] Snowdon, have portrayed her so compellingly."
The box set’s color scheme is informed by Riley’s current exhibition at Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas, where a large-scale, site-specific wall painting employs a palette inspired by a visit she made to Egypt in 1980. "I had been closely involved with the installation of A Bolt of Colour in Marfa, so the ‘Egyptian palette’ of colors was very much on my mind—turquoise, yellow, blue, red, black, and white," Harvey said. "At a meeting in Bridget’s London garden last summer, it was decided to print something on the cover cloths rather than just use a standard cloth—so once we got as far as needing five volumes and a slipcase, the opportunity arose to use the Egyptian colors." The slipcase also features the iconic 1961 painting Kiss.
Bridget Riley: The Complete Paintings provides an unprecedented view of the artist’s monumental body of work.
In addition to the wall painting at Chinati Foundation, Riley’s work is currently on view in Bridget Riley: Paintings from the 1960s to the Present at Kawamura Memorial DIC Museum of Art in Sakura through August 26, 2018. Featuring more than thirty works, ranging from black and white pieces created in the 1960s to recent wall paintings, the exhibition is the first major institutional presentation of the artist’s work in Japan since 1980. Riley’s critically acclaimed solo exhibition at David Zwirner London this winter presented works spanning 2014 to 2017.