As a big fan of Bridget Riley I do try to get to any and every exhibition of her work if I can and this career retrospective at the Hayward is one of the best yet. She really is an artist whose work is best appreciated in person. Photos don’t do justice to the optical effects that her paintings produce, whether these are the pure black and white explorations of her sixties work, the middle period vibrancy or her recent work in a more muted pastel palette.
‘Spanning over 70 years of work, the show focuses on the origins of Riley’s practice and traced pivotal moments across her acclaimed career. It featured very early paintings and drawings, many of which were being exhibited for the first time, iconic black-and-white paintings of the 1960s, Riley’s expansive explorations into colour, wall paintings and works made this year, as well as studies that reveal Riley’s working methods.’ SRA Curator
This particular retrospective moved to the Hayward after a very successful run at the Scottish Royal Academy in Edinburgh and it is a fascinating and enlightening show. As well as the early rarely exhibited Op Art pieces, there is a substantial collection of Riley’s early figurative work which is quite beautiful and shows a confidence of line and an assured handling of light and shade. Also on display are her works exploring the French pointillist painter George Seurat. In 1959 Bridget Riley painted a copy of Georges Seurat’s Bridge at Courbevoie and the experience was to prove transformative to her work. Through this and further exploration of Seurat’s techniques (which explored the relationship between adjacent different colours and how the eye perceived them) Riley came to the ‘…revelatory conclusion that Seurat relied on the perception of the viewer to reconstruct his dots into meaningful forms. “Perception,” she noted later, “became the medium’ SRA Curator.
The lessons she learned through this exploration led to the dazzling fizzing black and white and subsequent colour abstractions that she has continued to explore throughout her career.
Another standout feature of this exhibition is the vast collection of various preparatory sketches and drawings on display. These offer the visitor a glimpse into the artist’s process, with trial and error and experimentation resulting in the honing of colours and shapes until the final perfect selection is achieved.
‘Bridget Riley is Britain’s greatest abstract painter – some might say our greatest living artist period’ Mark Hudson
Everyone says that art must be experienced in person, but the work of Bridget Riley demands it – to truly appreciate the astounding effects she achieves with colour and shape, you must stand and look, and allow your eyes to take in the sensations in front of you. Red and blue stripes vibrate on a white background, yet somehow a yellow aura appears in parallel, shifting to orange and then vanishing again as the eye travels the canvas. Needless there is no yellow or orange present in the painting.
Bridget Riley runs at the Hayward Gallery on the Southbank till January 26th and as you my have guessed, I cannot recommend a visit highly enough.
Images and text © Jonathan Dredge