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A brilliant Bridget Riley exhibition at the Hayward Gallery

— by Antonia Cunliffe

Bridget Riley by Johnnie Shand Kydd

The largest retrospective of Bridget Riley’s paintings comes to London this autumn, fresh from National Galleries Scotland. Riley is now 88-years-old and this is seven decades of work by one of the most significant, and internationally renowned British painters in modern history. The large visually-charged canvases are shown to best effect on the white walls of the refurbished Hayward Gallery spaces. I had a sense of déjà-vu when I went earlier this week, and then after looking at the Hayward’s website, realised that I’d seen another exhibition of the artist’s work, back in 1992. Most of us have been to a Bridget Riley exhibition before, even so, having a familiarity with her work does not prepare you for the impact of this brilliant retrospective.

Bridget Riley. Movement in Squares, 1961. Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London. © Bridget Riley 2019. All rights reserved

The group of black and white Op-Art paintings from the Swinging Sixties hanging together in the Lower Galleries are wonderfully fresh with their pulsating presence. You have to give each picture time, stand in front of it and let the magic happen. The two-dimensional surface seems to move but this is a perceptual illusion created with strict geometry. And as Bridget Riley has said, ‘Looking is, I feel, a vital aspect of existence. Perception constitutes our awareness of what it is to be human, indeed what it is to be alive.’

 

Bridget Riley. Blaze 1, 1962. Private collection, on long loan to National Galleries of Scotland 2017

The early work in the Upper Galleries includes Riley’s representational studies as a student, first at Goldsmiths College followed by postgraduate studies at the Royal College of Art, in London. This section illustrates the influence of other painters on her work: the linear element in the paintings of Henri Matisse and Paul Klee and the method and colour mixtures in the pointillism of Georges Seurat she saw hanging in the National Gallery.

For me, the most exciting part of the whole exhibition is the section devoted to her working method. Pieces of graph paper, the size of which would sit on a drawing board or easel, demonstrate Bridget Riley’s meticulous development of the undulating works created on larger canvases (and now completed by her assistants). Neat pencil annotations and drawn lines show how these drawings with pencil, ruler, eraser and maybe a French curve enabled her to create amazing original patterns and colour combinations.

 

Bridget Riley High Sky, 1991 © Bridget Riley 2019. All rights reserved.

 

Colour was introduced in her work in 1967. The juxtaposition of vertical stripes, perfectly painted, created dynamism. The surfaces vibrate and seem to dance about or move in waves. She added diagonal elements to the vertical stripes and a wealth of coloured forms, in the late 1980s. This approach continues with the more recent larger mural compositions, displayed alongside the earlier, iconic canvases.

From black and white to technicolour, this is an eye-bogglingly brilliant exhibition. Bridget Riley’s originality shines through.

 

Bridget Riley Aria, 2012 © Bridget Riley 2019. All rights reserved.

 

Bridget Riley Rajasthan, 2012 Installation view, Bridget Riley, David Zwirner, New York, 2015

 

Bridget Riley is on until the 26 January 2020 at the Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre.Tickets are available HERE

 

More stripes HERE.

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The largest retrospective of Bridget Riley’s paintings comes to London this autumn, fresh from National Galleries Scotland. Riley is now 88-years-old and this is seven decades of work by one of …