“High-voltage”: that’s how the British painter Bridget Riley characterised her work to the art critic David Sylvester in 1967. As a description of the powerful effect of her early abstract paintings, it could hardly be bettered.
It is 50 years since Riley’s first commercial exhibition at Victor Musgrave’s Gallery One in London. To mark the anniversary, Karsten Schubert in Soho and Hazlitt Holland-Hibbert in St James’s are mounting a two-part exhibition, including 11 paintings, highlighting her celebrated black-and-white pictures of the early Sixties, before she started using colour in 1966. Half a century has elapsed since Riley made these works, but they have lost none of their wild, electrical crackle.
In part inspired by the pointillist technique of Seurat, Riley turned to abstraction around 1960. In the Arts Council’s Movement in Squares 1961, a chequerboard goes haywire. As the grid approaches the middle of the composition, it distorts, accelerates and then plunges towards infinity. People talk about painters striving to create the illusion of depth — here, Riley accessed another dimension altogether.
The works that followed, consisting of arrangements of subtly modified geometrical motifs, were hard to look at — a common response was to say that Riley’s work “hurt” your eyes. But it was phenomenally popular. By the time that one of her pictures was used on the cover of the catalogue for an important exhibition of “Op art” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1965, Riley had been well and truly ripped off by the fashion and advertising industries. Her zigzags, zebra stripes and spots became synonymous with the spirit of the Sixties.
Strange Random Painting Quote:
“I’ve been doing a lot of abstract painting lately, extremely abstract. No brush, no paint, no canvas, I just think about it.” – Steven Wright (American Actor and Writer, b.1955)
- Make Lines Like Bridget Riley (education.com)
- Unlocking The Vault: Bridget Riley, Wadsworth Antheneum (newamericanpaintings.wordpress.com)
- Bridget Riley (visualbalm.wordpress.com)
- “at the same time that arguments for generating a homeostatic synthesis between art and science were made, another movement was generating a unique mixture of patterns, intuition, technology, symmetry, and pop culture: op art.”  (ayounghare.wordpress.com)
- The Friday Arts Diary (newstatesman.com)
- Weekly Recap (Week of May 14) (newamericanpaintings.wordpress.com)