I saw an exhibition of Bridget Riley’s work in a career retrospective of her work at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art some five years ago. With what great delight her paintings shimmered, danced and cavorted across the canvas before one’s very eyes, while the waters of the sunlit Harbour did the same through the MCA’s windows! I was reminded of this seeing the current, small exhibition of her work in the Sun-Lit Room at the National Gallery, London. While “sunlit” is an aspirational term in London this week, her paintings, some of them painted directly onto the walls themselves, still dance before our eyes. Robert Melville, writing in the New Statesman in 1970, expressed it best: “No painter, dead or alive, has ever made us more aware of our eyes than Bridget Riley.”
Morton Feldman once said of the paintings of the abstract expressionists that they only perform for you as you leave them. “Not long ago Guston asked some friends, myself among them, to see his recent work at a warehouse. The paintings were like sleeping giants, hardly breathing. As the others were leaving, I turned for a last look, then said to him, “There they are. They’re up.” They were already engulfing the room.” (Feldman, p. 100, cited in Bernard, p. 182) Riley’s paintings are up and dancing before you even enter the room! What pleasure these paintings give, what delight one has just being in their company!
I have posted before about the art of the national treasure who is Ms Riley, here.
Reviews of the NG exhibition here: Hilary Spurling, Maev Kennedy, and Adrian Searle. And images from the Exhibition here.
The image above shows two assistants of Bridget Riley painting her work Arcadia 1 directly onto the wall at the National Gallery. Photograph credit: The National Gallery.
Morton Feldman : Philip Guston: The last painter. Art News Annual 1966 (Winter 1965).
Jonathan W. Bernard : Feldman’s painters. pp. 173-215, in: Steven Johnson (Editor): The New York Schools of Music and Visual Arts. New York, NY, USA: Routledge.