Bridget Riley: The Stripe Paintings 1961–2012
English / German
Amongst the many pictorial devices Bridget Riley has deployed over her long career the use of stripes has been recurring consistently. Accompanying the Bridget Riley: The Stripe Paintings 1961–2012 exhibition at Galerie Max Hetzler, this publication documents key paintings and studies demonstrating how Riley regularly returns to this seemingly simple idea and achieves surprising and complex results. At the centre of the publication stands a group of new horizontal stripe paintings which take Riley’s ability to animate the entire visual field to new heights.
The Stripe Paintings 1961–2013
... From 1980 to 1985, the stripe format dominated Riley’s thinking. This focused body of formal activity was then supplanted by other considerations. It was not until 2009, almost twenty-five years later, that it once again resurfaced. The recent works in the present exhibition follow her renewed involvement with this motif. With Rose Rose 5 (2009), certain developments were immediately clear. A new, warm and highly radiant palette was evident. Employing broad vertical stripes of regular width, the formal architecture was firm. Yet, as a successor painting Lux (2011) made apparent, this structure was anything but rigid. Colour, light, space, depth and mass are building blocks, but these elusive components provide an unexpected, wonderfully transparent tissue of fleeting sensation. Previously supporting her visual argument, chromatic modulation was now at centre-stage, dissolving the picture plane. There is a sense that Riley’s earlier concerns – with bold contrast, the interaction of colours, tonality, movement and the interplay of light and dark – were all being brought together in an astonishing synthesis.
Rose Red (2012) stands at the beginning of the resulting, new phase. With the stripe as the vehicle for this celebratory activity, in Rose Red and other paintings completed since 2012, the format switched to the horizontal. Having previously avoided a landscape connotation, such works accommodate it. That said, the sensuous warmth of Riley’s palette, which includes rose red, purple, bright orange, yellow and magenta, seems more redolent of human life than place. These colours intimate her long-standing admiration for Renoir’s palette. Her chromatic range can also be understood in relation to studies made in 2012 connected with a corridor wall painting contemplated for St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, London. In those preparatory works, Riley deliberately embraced uplifting colours linked with the human body. However, the expansive scale of the new paintings leads to nature. This feeling is also engendered by a further, surprising reprise of earlier preoccupations. The paintings’ structure now embraces the purely plastic requirements of sensation but also moves beyond that imperative. Accentuating the picture plane with its stresses and intervals, colour generates a perception of light and movement that animates the entire visual field. The result is a constantly changing pageant – a chromatic suffusion – that unfolds before the observer.
Employing a shared palette of warm colours, the recent stripe paintings constitute complex variations on a single, chromatic theme. In Rose Red, Burnished Rose, Rose Gold, Rose Shadow, Rose Rise and Red Overture (all 2012), colour and space are massed differently, with weight, rhythm and density moving around, dissolving and then re-forming. These fugitive structures draw into various clusters and groupings. The greens add stresses and nuances, accentuating particular passages. Certain relationships echo others encountered elsewhere, so that the total ensemble resonates. This dynamic is distinctly musical and yet, conspicuously, it speaks to the eye, pressing and caressing with subtle emphasis. The ‘pleasures of sight’, a principle that has guided Riley’s work throughout its development, are here as surprising as ever. Instability is linked with unpredictability so that, as in nature, a sudden conjunction or intrusion will catch us unawares. In Rose Gold, for example, the chromatic movement proceeds from the top edge through to the base line. Proceeding via modulated passages of related pinks and reds, the eye responds to the insistent, irregular thrusts of blue and green. Few artists have used colour so rhythmically, harnessing visual sensations to visceral responses.
Throughout her development Riley has drawn confirmation from one of the last entries in Delacroix’s diary in which he observed that ‘the first merit of a painting is to be a feast for the eyes’. Her recent stripe paintings are a striking reaffirmation of that principle, exhilarating and entrancing in equal measure. These expansive horizontal arrangements do not depict. But, fed by memory and imagination, they are movingly redolent of things seen and savoured – vast skies, the dying of the light, distant horizons and new dawns. The latest works are none of these phenomena, and yet – plastic and metaphorical – they recall the surrounding world. Echoing nature, art provides a site for contemplation that seems invested with the mysterious, affirmative quality of life.
In collaboration with Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin, and Ridinghouse, London