After the National Gallery showing some of her recent works alongside old masters paintings in the Sunley Room in 2010-11, another exhibition last year at Karsten Shubert gallery presenting some black and white geometrical drawings from the sixties, Bridget Riley is back in London this year with a three floor exhibition at David Zwirner gallery. This time, the display focuses on her famous stripe paintings, with works dating back to the early sixties until today.
The originality of the exhibition lies in the focus on only one aspect of the British artist’s work. Showing her stripes painting alone enables us to see the evolution in her technique over five decades. Although the paintings are all composed of colorfoul lines, the selection is of great variety: shapes, orientation, thickness and tones keep on changing.
If you look at paintings from the 60’s, you will immediately understand why she is well-known as a key figure in Op Art. Horizontal Vibration from the year 1961 is a good example of it. As the title suggests, the surface of the painting appears to move in front of your eyes. Similarly, other paintings from the late 60’s, using a combination elementary colours and white thin lines, convey the same kind of feeling.
Towards the eighties, the stripes overturned and took a vertical position; they got thicker and the colours became more subtle and diverse. The result is softer than the previous works – almost soothing as for Serenissima (1982) – and we can clearly see the landscape inspiration claimed by the artist.
The works of the last decade went back to a horizontal position. This time, the lines got even thicker and the white totally disappear to give way to a solar and bright range of tons. Pinks and oranges sparkle on the surface of a painting such as About Yellow (2013-14). It is as if you were standing in front of a mirage in a desert: you eyes get lost between the lines and you are entirely absorbed by the painting.
But finally, one of the things that truly worth the journey, is the drawing room on the third floor. There, you are given the chance to see the entire process for the creation of a painting. The first drafts on graph paper, carefully testing the choice of colours and their association, to the final version awaiting to be transform to a full scale painting. Once again, it’s a delight for the eyes and you are amazed by the extreme rigour and meticulous preparation such works require. Overall, the exhibition pays a nice tribute to the artist’s various experimentations on perception and optical experiences, thus confirming her status as a leading figure in the abstract painting scene.
“Rhythm and repetition are at the root of movement. They create a situation within which the most simple basic forms start to become visually active. By massing them and repeating them, they become more fully present. Repetition acts as a sort of amplifier for visual events which seen singly would hardly be visible. But to make these basic forms release the full visual energy within them, they have to breathe, as it were – to open and close, or to tighten up and then relax. A rhythm that’s alive has to do with changing pace and feeling how the visual speed can expand and contract – sometimes go slower and sometimes go faster. The whole thing must live.” (from the video)