Bridget Riley's (b. 1931) abstract compositions yield a singular sense of visual pleasure for the viewer, a notion derived as much from the artist's formative encounters with Old Master and Impressionist painting as from her early experiences with nature. Since 1961, she has focused exclusively on seemingly simple geometric forms, such as lines, circles, curves, and squares, arrayed across a surface—whether a canvas, a wall, or paper—according to an internal logic. The resulting compositions actively engage the viewer, at times triggering sensations of vibration and movement. This sense of dynamism was explored to great effect in the artist's earliest black-and-white paintings, which established the basis of her enduring formal vocabulary. In 1967, Riley introduced color into her work, thus expanding the perceptual and optical possibilities of her compositions.
Riley was born in 1931 in London, where she attended Goldsmiths College from 1949 to 1952 and the Royal College of Art from 1952 to 1955.
Riley’s first solo exhibitions were held at Gallery One, London, in 1962 and 1963, followed by two exhibitions at Robert Fraser Gallery, London, in 1966 and 1967. She was also at that time included in numerous group exhibitions such as Towards Art?, Royal College of Art London (1962); The New Generation, Whitechapel Gallery, London (1964); and Painting and Sculpture of a Decade 1954–1964, Tate Gallery, London (1964). In 1965, her work was included in the now-seminal group exhibition The Responsive Eye, organized by William Seitz at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. In 1968, she represented Great Britain at the 34th Venice Biennale (along with Philip King), where she was the first living British painter to win the prestigious International Prize for Painting. Her first retrospective, covering the period from 1961 to 1970, opened at the Kunstverein Hannover in 1971 and subsequently traveled to Kunsthalle Bern; Kunsthalle Düsseldorf; Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna, Turin; and the Hayward Gallery, London.
More recent significant solo presentations include those at Dia Center for the Arts, New York (2000-2001); Museum Haus Esters and Kaiser Wilhelm Museum, Krefeld, Germany (2002); Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney (2004-2005); Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (2008); Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool (traveled to Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery; Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery; Southampton City Art Gallery; 2009-2010); The National Gallery, London (2010-2011); Art Institute of Chicago (2014-2015); The Courtauld Gallery, London (2015); De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill on Sea, England (traveled to Gemeentemuseum, The Hague; 2015); Graves Gallery, Museum Sheffield, England (2016); Christchurch Art Gallery, New Zealand (2017); and Kawamura Memorial DIC Museum of Art, Sakura, Japan (2018).
Bridget Riley: Perceptual Abstraction was on view at the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut, in 2022. The traveling exhibition Bridget Riley Drawings: From the Artist’s Studio, which includes drawings from the late 1940s to the present day, originated at The Art Institute of Chicago and will subsequently be on view at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, and the Morgan Library, New York, in 2023
A large-scale wall painting by Riley entitled Messengers was unveiled in 2019 at The National Gallery in London. Also in 2019, a solo presentation of the artist’s work that was organized by the National Galleries of Scotland opened at the Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, and traveled to the Hayward Gallery, London (2019-2020).
In 1974, Riley was named a CBE (Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) and in 1999, appointed the Companion of Honour. In 2003, the artist was awarded the Praemium Imperiale in Tokyo. She received the Kaiser Ring of the City of Goslar, Germany, in 2009 and the Rubens Prize of the City of Siegen, Germany, in 2012.
Work by the artist is included in museum and public collections worldwide, including The Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York; Art Institute of Chicago; Arts Council, U.K.; British Council, U.K.; Dallas Museum of Art; Dia Art Foundation, New York; Israel Museum, Jerusalem; Kunstmuseum Bern; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Siegen, Germany; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo; Nationalgalerie, Berlin; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; and Tate, London.
David Zwirner has worked with Riley since 2014, and the gallery's inaugural exhibition of her work, Bridget Riley: The Stripe Paintings 1961-2014, was held in London that year. In 2015, a career spanning survey was presented at the gallery in New York, and in 2018, the London gallery presented Riley’s recent works from the last four years. Bridget Riley – Studies: 1984-1997 was on view at the gallery’s London location in 2020. Bridget Riley: Past into Present was on view at David Zwirner, London in 2021. Riley lives and works in London, Cornwall, and France.
On May 4, 2023, the British School at Rome (BSR) unveiled a new ceiling painting by one of the world’s most celebrated artists, Bridget Riley. Riley has created many murals and wall paintings, but this latest work, Verve, is her first ceiling painting. The large-scale work is installed in the foyer of the BSR, covering four barrel vaults of the ceiling and using her ‘Egyptian palette’.
Riley has strong ties with the BSR, including an exhibition of her work which was presented at the BSR in 1996. More recently, since 2016 she has endowed The Bridget Riley Fellowship, which provides an opportunity for a young painter to spend six months at the BSR to develop their work.
Riley said: “I would like to thank the British School at Rome for its invitation to paint the vaulting barrels of Edwin Lutyens’ beautiful ceiling. It was the beginning of an exhilarating visual chase. Exhilarating but not without hazard. Through many pleasurable challenges, encouraged by Mark Getty’s enthusiasm, I pursued this perceptual adventure and played my ‘color acoustics’ with great delight. Looking up, the color of the skies offers a glimpse of nature in her most promising and serene mood.”
Mark Getty, Chair of the BSR Council, said: “We are thrilled that Bridget Riley has developed, executed, and given this wall painting to the BSR. It will adorn our entrance for decades to come, and pronounce clearly the strong relationship which exists between British and Commonwealth artists and thinkers, and the Roman and Italian world.”
Learn more at British School at Rome.
Bridget Riley Drawings: From the Artist’s Studio at Hammer Museum
February 4–May 28, 2023
For Bridget Riley the act of drawing is a process of selection, an essential way of discovering and resolving problems presented during the course of developing her abstract paintings. Drawing has remained a crucial part of Riley’s practice for more than six decades. Bridget Riley Drawings: From the Artist’s Studio is the first and most extensive museum exhibition dedicated exclusively to the artist’s drawings in over half a century and the first major exhibition of her work at a West Coast museum.
This exhibition presents approximately ninety sheets and covers the full range of Riley’s career, from her student days in the late 1940s, when she dedicated herself exclusively to drawing courses at Goldsmiths College in London, through her groundbreaking black-and-white optical works of the early 1960s, to the innovative color studies she has undertaken from the late 1960s to the present day. It includes rough studies; line drawings; tonal studies; preliminary works with written notations, tape, bands, and cut-and-pasted shapes; and highly finished drawings that stand as independent works. The majority of the drawings come from the artist’s studio, where they are retained as foundational elements crucial to her practice and always available for reference and reconsideration. The selection of works on view allows us to consider Riley’s practice from its earliest beginnings to the first decade of this century.
Bridget Riley Drawings: From the Artist’s Studio is co-organized by the Hammer Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Morgan Library & Museum.
Learn more at the Hammer Museum.
Bridget Riley Drawings: From the Artist’s Studio is the first and most extensive museum exhibition dedicated exclusively to Bridget Riley’s drawings in over half a century. The exhibition presents approximately 90 sheets from the artist’s own collection, kept as part of her dynamic studio practice. These works cover the full range of her career—from her student days in the late 1940s, when she dedicated herself exclusively to drawing courses at Goldsmiths College, through her groundbreaking black-and-white optical works of the early 1960s and the innovative color studies she has produced from the late 1960s to the present day.
In one gallery of the exhibition, Riley has selected works from the Art Institute’s permanent collection to pay homage to the artists who have influenced her work. These include paintings and drawings by Paul Klee, Piet Mondrian, Georges Seurat, and others.
Bridget Riley Drawings: From the Artist’s Studio is co-organized by the Art Institute of Chicago, the Hammer Museum, and the Morgan Library & Museum. An accompanying catalogue reproduces all works in the exhibition and includes new essays by Clarke and Federman, as well as art historian and critic Thomas Crow.
Learn more at Art Institute Chicago.
June 10–August 21, 2022
Zentrum Paul Klee presents Bridget Riley: Looking and Seeing, Doing and Making, an exhibition exploring the connections between Bridget Riley and Paul Klee. Alongside many other influences, Riley’s work draws upon the ideas of Bauhaus artists like Klee and Kandinsky, and Klee’s Bauhaus teachings in particular.
In 1924, Paul Klee gave a talk for the opening of an exhibition at the Kunstverein Jena. Published in English in 1948 with the title “On Modern Art,” the talk, as well as Klee’s lecture notes from the Bauhaus, examined the pictorial functions of line, tonality, and color, and the infinitely complex images that can arise from them.
These texts had a lasting impression on Riley’s practice, and in 2001, Riley co-curated a Klee exhibition with Robert Kudielka at the Hayward Gallery in London. On occasion of this exhibition, Riley wrote that Klee showed her the meaning of abstraction in art: In creative matters, abstract forms should not be seen as the result of an intellectual process of abstracting from experience but rather as a starting point, holding a “potential…. which will genuinely enlarge the vocabulary of art and the perception of the world around us.”
Both Riley and Klee also drew vital artistic inspiration from their respective travels to North Africa. Riley visited Egypt in the winter of 1979–1980, and the tomb paintings, architecture, and landscape had a lasting impact on her. There, she studied Egyptian painting techniques, which led her to develop her “Egyptian palette,” consisting of seven colors: turquoise, blue, red, yellow, green, black, and white. This parallel serves as the starting point for this exhibition. In 1914, Klee traveled to Tunisia, where he experienced a “breakthrough into color.” Later, when he went to Egypt in 1928, he was struck by the relationships between light and color and the cultural landscape in the Nile Valley.
The exhibition includes Riley’s stripe paintings from the early 1980s, which are based on the Egyptian palette, and demonstrates how this artistic turning point reverberated in Riley’s work through the early 2000s.
March 3–July 24, 2022
Selected by the artist and displayed on two floors, the works in the exhibition Bridget Riley: Perceptual Abstraction comprise the largest survey of Riley's work in the United States in twenty years. The show opens with an in-depth examination of Riley's seminal monochrome paintings of the 1960s on the third floor and presents the full range of her oeuvre in color on the second floor. Assembling Riley's most iconic paintings alongside rarely seen works, the exhibition traces the evolution of her deep engagement with the fundamentals of visual perception.
“Looking carefully at paintings is the best training you can have as a young painter,” Riley has said of her deep appreciation of the work of painters of the past. Subsequently, for this exhibition, she has selected an oil study by John Constable from the Yale Center for British Art and a watercolor by Eugène Delacroix from the Yale University Art Gallery to hang alongside her own work.
The Yale Center for British Art will offer free of charge a digital publication, Bridget Riley: Perceptual Abstraction, which explores Riley's long and prolific career—her early, energetic black-and-white work, her experimentation with gray, and her signature innovations with color and arresting patterns. The catalogue includes essays by Maryam Ohadi-Hamadani, Bridget Riley, and Rachel Stratton.
Bridget Riley Is Elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters
March 3, 2022
The American Academy of Arts and Letters elects Bridget Riley as Foreign Honorary Member, considered the highest form of recognition of artistic merit in the United States. Along with Bridget Riley, other artists elected for membership include Suzan Frecon, Charles Gaines, and Arthur Jafa.
Bridget Riley and Renoir at The Phillips Collection
February 10–May 8, 2022
For her One-on-One installation, the celebrated British painter Bridget Riley selects three of her works—two paintings, Red Overture (2012) and Red with Red 1 (2007), and one screenprint, One Small Step (2009)—to be displayed vis-à-vis Luncheon of the Boating Party (1880–1881) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir.
Bridget Riley developed her signature op-art style in the 1960s, creating intricate geometric patterns that produce optical sensations. While her abstract compositions were at first stark black-and-white, her later paintings explore the perceptual activity of color. Riley has acknowledged the influence of French postimpressionism on her mature style, especially the use of color in works by Renoir, Georges Seurat, Pierre Bonnard, and Henri Matisse. Riley first saw Luncheon of the Boating Party in 1985 at the Hayward Gallery in London, and said: “Renoir was passionately interested in all matters of color. I was enthralled by his use of red, one of the most difficult colors for a painter, by virtue of its strength. He takes red through every possible modulation and every shade of light and dark, using it as contrast or harmony.”
October 23, 2019–January 26, 2020
As featured in Bazaar Art magazine, Bridget Riley travels to London's Hayward gallery following its critcally-acclaimed debut at the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh earlier this year. This the most comprehensive exhibition of the artist's career to date, presenting more than seventy years of work demonstrating her 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 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 view at The National Gallery in London in January 2019.
The London exhibition features Intervals 2 (2019), a new wall painting 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."
Riley is to have a major retrospective at the Scottish National Gallery in June this year; the show will travel to the Hayward Gallery in October 2019.
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.
Bridget Riley: The Complete Paintings
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 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.
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."
Royal Liverpool University Hospital, 1983, as wall painting, Bolt of Colour, 2017
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.