French / English
Two years after being awarded the 2012 Rubens Prize of the City of Siegen, Bridget Riley created a ten-metre wide wall painting for the local Museum of Contemporary Art. It was in stark black and white, composed from black angles and arcs on a white ground. After decades of exploring the subtle effects of colours, with this painting the artist revisited and developed the work she had started in the early 1960s as a pioneer of op art. Then, in 2015, at Galerie Max Hetzler in Paris, she showed a focussed selection of five related works: a nearly nine-metre-wide wall painting, as well as two monumental and two smaller panel paintings. They were all in black and white and built on variations of a modified triangular shape with one side rounded convexly or concavely. The two smaller paintings themselves were shaped in triangular form. The different dimensions of the works and the repeating forms they were based on offered a complex interplay within the exhibition spaces. This book now renders the connections between the works as clear as a walk through the gallery. An essay by French art historian Éric de Chassey puts the development of this new series in a context with examples of famous paintings from the artist’s earlier work phases.
... In thus revisiting her own past, Riley does not forsake her allegiance to the principles of modernism, which entails that each work of art is an adventure with an unforeseeable result reached through a process of trial and error, and not the illustration of a pre-existing idea or the mere formalisation of a floating image. Riley simply leaves aside – as she has long since done – the teleology that went with modernism up until the 1970s, in order to direct the viewers’ attention to the particular effects created by each painting.
The scale of the new paintings makes them not only a visual experience, but a bodily experience, too. Far from inducing the ‘radical disembodiment’ associated with Riley’s 1960s works, these paintings have their roots in the here and now of a bodily perception that can only function in the presence of a stable object. We identify an image on the surface of the painting at the same time as the image’s complex perceptual effects make themselves felt, whether or not we are conscious of them, concentrating on them or simply looking while paying no particular attention. But unlike the large curve paintings, where ‘one is unavoidably reminded of human gestures and movements’, the new black-and-white paintings are thoroughly non-figurative, without any suggestion of bodies: they are to be experienced by an incarnated eyesight, which is not replicated nor even hinted at in them. They are more like landscapes, or rather, because they are reduced to a contrast of black and white, they are like the movements of light and shadows that you can experience on a stable surface or moving across a field. Although this field is that of a picture or wall, it relates to experiences made in nature: ‘It did begin in Cornwall with walks on the cliffs’, Riley has acknowledged. ‘You walk one way and you walk back and the light is different.’ This is where the address of these paintings rests – not on the basis of a teleological notion of progress to which viewers would be led indiscriminately through excitation – but on that of a one-on-one relationship. What we experience first in these paintings are some harmonious certainties (and our uncertain world demands some certainties because we are lost enough in our everyday lives), which never lock themselves onto closed identities, but, within a prolonged viewing, are at our disposal to be freely and pleasurably analysed, broken apart, recomposed, started anew – each time in a personal way.