Bridget Riley

Seen at the Royal Scottish Academy, Princes Street, Edinburgh

BR1

If you can, try and get to see this exhibition, a major retrospective.  It’s in Edinburgh till Sunday 22 September and then at the Hayward Gallery, London from October to January 2020.  It’ll cost you no more than £15 (£20 in London) and a couple of hours.  I enjoyed it, learned a lot and found it inspiring.

At nearly 90, Bridget Riley is still working, and as this show demonstrates, revisiting work she did back in the 1960’s.  Then she’d started her journey, entranced by the paintings of French artist Georges Seurat (as inthe Sondheim musical Sunday in the Park with George).  She was heavily influenced by his pointilliste landscapes.  His dots became her lines.

She never looked back, creating seemingly simple yet elaborate configurations of lines, lines and more lines.  At first these were in black-and-white then she introduced curves, colour and increasingly diverse geometrical shapes.  These are deliberately juxtaposed so that they play on your perception.

This is brought right home to you as you go around the exhibition.  Riley’s works are an embodiment of the phrase: It’s all in the eye of the beholder. The art work doesn’t finish with the completed painting; it continues to work with the participation of the viewer.  You literally get to feel something as you look at these paintings.  They seem to move.  They even seem to move you, to make you feel a little dizzy.  In the visitors’ book, someone had written My eyes are hurting!  I also overheard somebody say I’m a bit queasy.

But it’s far from unpleasant – deeply satisfying in fact, as you see more and more patterns emerge from mere lines and shapes.

She was a hit here and abroad, especially New York, and the list of galleries and collections submitting work to this major show is an impressive testament to her great output.

The stages of her fascinating development are organised, appropriately enough, in linear order over 10 rooms, though with a couple of surprises – well, to me at least.

In Room 7, entitled Studies, you see the science behind the art.  The measurements, proportions and layout are meticulously planned in breath-taking detail.  It’s like seeing Einstein’s or Leonardo da Vinci’s workings.  Though the results are artistic, nothing in their preparation is left to chance or impulse.  Assistants help her set up a cartoon, a model created thorough constant calculation and endless exploration.  For this reason, to call Bridget Riley an abstract painter like, say, Jackson Pollock, would be a bit misleading.

And it’s smart of the curators to leave Beginnings to the last room, displaying her early works while she was a student at Goldsmith’s College.  I thought I’d wandered into another exhibition, because they are so different – figurative representations of faces, places and things.  She could draw conventionally but soon moved on to the still exciting lines, shapes and colours which this highly pleasurable show makes the very most of.

I hope you get a chance to catch it.

Seen at the Royal Scottish Academy, Princes Street, Edinburgh

If you can, try and get to see this exhibition, a major retrospective.  It’s in Edinburgh till Sunday 22 September and then at the Hayward Gallery, London from October to January 2020.  It’ll cost you no more than £15 (£20 in London) and a couple of hours.  I enjoyed it, learned a lot and found it inspiring.

At nearly 90, Bridget Riley is still working, and as this show demonstrates, revisiting work she did back in the 1960’s.  Then she’d started her journey, entranced by the paintings of French artist Georges Seurat (as inthe Sondheim musical Sunday in the Park with George).  She was heavily influenced by his pointilliste landscapes.  His dots became her lines.

She never looked back, creating seemingly simple yet elaborate configurations of lines, lines and more lines.  At first these were in black-and-white then she introduced curves, colour and increasingly diverse geometrical shapes.  These are deliberately juxtaposed so that they play on your perception.

This is brought right home to you as you go around the exhibition.  Riley’s works are an embodiment of the phrase: It’s all in the eye of the beholder. The art work doesn’t finish with the completed painting; it continues to work with the participation of the viewer.  You literally get to feel something as you look at these paintings.  They seem to move.  They even seem to move you, to make you feel a little dizzy.  In the visitors’ book, someone had written My eyes are hurting!  I also overheard somebody say I’m a bit queasy.

But it’s far from unpleasant – deeply satisfying in fact, as you see more and more patterns emerge from mere lines and shapes.

She was a hit here and abroad, especially New York, and the list of galleries and collections submitting work to this major show is an impressive testament to her great output.

The stages of her fascinating development are organised, appropriately enough, in linear order over 10 rooms, though with a couple of surprises – well, to me at least.

In Room 7, entitled Studies, you see the science behind the art.  The measurements, proportions and layout are meticulously planned in breath-taking detail.  It’s like seeing Einstein’s or Leonardo da Vinci’s workings.  Though the results are artistic, nothing in their preparation is left to chance or impulse.  Assistants help her set up a cartoon, a model created thorough constant calculation and endless exploration.  For this reason, to call Bridget Riley an abstract painter like, say, Jackson Pollock, would be a bit misleading.

And it’s smart of the curators to leave Beginnings to the last room, displaying her early works while she was a student at Goldsmiths’ College.  I thought I’d wandered into another exhibition, because they are so different – figurative representations of faces, places and things.  She could draw conventionally but soon moved on to the still exciting lines, shapes and colours which this highly pleasurable show makes the very most of.

I hope you get a chance to catch it.

by Paul BassettGlasgow, August 2019.

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