LONDON – Almost 50 years have passed since The Responsive Eye, a major exhibition of Op art held at the Museum of Modern Art in 1965. The decade had brought a felt need for audience engagement in art; it was also the era of hallucinogenic experimentation. The front cover of the catalogue featured a work by Bridget Riley, bringing her international recognition. Since then, the artist hasn’t stopped working on her distinctive paintings with method and precision. Bridget Riley: The Stripe Paintings 1961–2014, the current exhibition at David Zwirner Gallery in London, gathers together a considerable number of these paintings more than 10 years after the last retrospective of her work was held at the Tate Modern in 2003.
If the choice of showing only her stripe paintings sounds in any way arbitrary (excluding her most famous “wave paintings,” for instance), the show is an occasion to focus on a particular selection of works with the same features. Moving through the three floors of the gallery, the visitor soon begins to appreciate the almost endless variations possible with stripes. Riley employs them as optical devices for the experimentations in composition for which she’s famous, carrying on the research in the elemental components of painting that marks out Modernism. Modernist hero Wassily Kandinsky’s theorization of the fundamental elements of painting is not so different from Riley’s conceptions, although the two artists belong to completely distinct worlds. Kandinsky’s studies of the elements that make a painting (point, line, and plane) perfectly express the need for analyzing the common source from which every artwork originates. In a similar way, Riley — using those very elementary shapes — has dedicated her whole career to studying the mechanism at the roots of visual experience. Her personal mantra, “rhythm and repetition,” sounds akin to the very principle of abstraction.
Interestingly, the show focuses almost exclusively on her colored paintings, with the only exception being the monochrome “Horizontal Vibration” from 1961. Bridget Riley: The Stripe Paintings 1961–2014 also includes her first stripe work in color, as well as vertical stripe works from the 1980s where, after a journey to Egypt, she employed her “Egyptian” palette, a range of colors inspired by the vibrant shades used in ancient Egyptian paintings. Riley’s interest in color is inspired mainly from her studies of Italian Futurism and French masters like Henri Matisse and Georges Seurat, whose pictorial outcomes perfectly suit her activity and interests. Riley herself is passionate about art history, having studied and written extensively on Old Masters. Not surprisingly, Pointillism and Divisionism are at the roots of her practice, them being two of the most substantial tendencies of Modernism as well. The two movements rely on the capacity of the eye of the viewer to blend colors placed side by side, obtaining a fuller range of tones.
In a similar way, Riley has used this very ability of the human eye to make an impression on the viewers of her works, hence her reputation of being an “optical” artist. A painting like “Elysium” (1973/2002) illustrates the effects Riley achieves just combining colors organized in stripes. While looking at the picture closely the different shades are perfectly separate and recognizable, from a certain distance those very colors overlap. This impression, combined with the regular rhythm of vertical lines, tricks the mind of the observer, making the painting alive as in an optical illusion.
Following the Modernist tradition, the artist has dedicated her whole career to understanding visual perception, engaging with form and color. Yet, her way of painting links her to Minimalism and to conceptual practice, influences that are still clearly recognizable in a great part of today’s art. This is probably where one has to look to understand the reasons for her success: Riley’s paintings establish a sort of bridge between old inquiries and more recent art; no matter how many years have passed since the inception of Modernism, she seems to suggest its bases are still the fundament of artistic endeavor, and always will be. Her work acts as a reminder of this.
Bridget Riley: The Stripe Paintings 1961–2014 continues at David Zwirner Gallery (24 Grafton Street, London) through July 25.
Three Looted Antiquities at the Met Repatriated to Turkey
Nine other repatriated works were seized from Met Trustee Shelby White, whose collection was subject to a criminal investigation.
This week, the world’s lightest paint, Pakistan’s feminist movement, World Puppy Day, and were some of Vermeer’s paintings created by his daughter?
The Wider World and Scrimshaw
On March 28, join the New Bedford Whaling Museum online and in-person for a symposium on global carving traditions from across the Pacific Rim.
Who Will Decide on the Future of a Miami Native Burial Ground?
Native activists say sacred remains and objects dug up from a Brickell construction site should remain there, but mega-developer Jorge Pérez is pushing back.
How Can a Curator Approach South Asian Futurisms?
How do I acknowledge my shortcomings while reckoning with obscured histories and the exclusion of subaltern narratives in the fine art landscape? A working checklist for curators.
MCA Chicago Presents On Stage: Frictions
Will Rawls, Shamel Pitts | TRIBE, and Barak adé Soleil explore Blackness, queerness, movement, and dance in performances at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.
The Complicated Legacy of Camilo Egas
The Ecuadorian painter, a leading figure of Latin America’s Indigenismo art movement, has been both praised and scorned for his representation of Indigenous peoples.
Tom Jones Zeroes in on Ho-Chunk Visibility
“I think about the young kids, the teenagers, and I think being able to see yourself represented in art is so powerful,” says the artist.
Haggerty Museum of Art Presents Tomás Saraceno in Dialogue With Dr. Somesh Roy
The artist and researcher will explore soot’s effects on climate change and public health in this online conversation.
Hundreds of Artworks by NYC Teenagers Go on View at the Met
The talented seventh through twelfth-grade students are recipients of the 2023 Scholastic Art and Writing Awards.
NYC’s Flatiron Building Sells for a Whopping $190M
The sale to outsider bidder Jacob Garlick puts an end to the protracted legal battle between the iconic skyscraper’s five former owners.
McKnight Visual Artist Fellows Discussion Series at the Minneapolis Institute of Art
The series features 2021 Fellows David Bowen, Mara Duvra, Rotem Tamir, Ben Moren, and Dyani White Hawk in conversation with renowned curators and critics.
The Best Memes Roasting the “We ❤️ NYC” Campaign
A graphic designer on Twitter created a hilarious send-up of the universally reviled logo, and the rest is history.
Did You Know These Museums Were Free for New Yorkers?
The “Free Admission” campaign is advocating to make ticket pricing information more transparent to visitors, who may be confused or misled by institutions’ language.
Boring and bland work. Would make an acceptable decoration in a child’s room or a craft room, perhaps.
Comments are closed.