Bridget Riley: Paintings 1984–2020
24 x 30 cm
Bridget Riley’s art is fueled by the artist’s fascination with forms and colors from the history of painting, in which she finds new harmonies and meanings when she abstracts colors from their original figurative purposes. With each painting series, she arrives at new results—and this book, her fifth at Holzwarth Publications, introduces her latest ones: the Intervals, broad horizontal stripes in shades of a grayed green, violet, orange, and turquoise standing on a white background. The arrangement does not follow strict rules: “When it has become clear that there is no stable intellectual principle behind the permutations,” Éric de Chassey writes in his essay, “the mind and eye can engage in and accept the harmony of the whole picture, established as it has been by the rhythm of changes in its units.” The series Measure for Measure is held in similar tones, but as the composition is built from colored circles, the paintings have a more airy, floating character, each color also standing on its own. In the exhibition at all three venues of Galerie Max Hetzler in Berlin, these new works are related to earlier canvases and wall paintings dating back to 1984. It becomes clear that Riley’s works are always both a stocktaking of what she has achieved already and preparatory work for future paintings.
In 1965, Bridget Riley succinctly described her method in words that have since become famous and often repeated when considering her work: ‘The basis of my painting is this: that in each of them a particular situation is stated. Certain elements within that situation remain constant. Others precipitate the destruction of themselves by themselves. Recurrently, as a result of the cyclic movement of repose, disturbance and repose, the original situation is re-stated.’ The importance of this statement cannot be overemphasised. The fact that she has always remained faithful to the principles thus established enables us to understand one key aspect of Riley’s aesthetics, which has set her oeuvre apart from those of all other abstract painters ever since the early 1960s: harmony encompasses contradictions; it is the result of labour and not an easy and immediate find; order is born out of destruction, not through an internal feud but rather through a paced resolution. The artists who took part in the international Op Art tendency, such as Victor Vasarely or Julio Le Parc, stop at the second step, destroying the stability of a situation to create a feeling of continuous movement and permanent agitation, ultimately leading to the abandonment of the picture plane and the translation of painting into an environment. The artists who established the basis of what came to be known as ‘post-painterly’ or ‘minimal’, such as Ellsworth Kelly, Kenneth Noland or Frank Stella, stop at the first stage, creating a pictorial situation that immediately establishes a stable harmony, so much so that, when they felt they had exhausted the possibilities contained in such a method (with the notable exception of Kelly), they created works that start with overtly clashing elements and reach a conclusive state by pitting those one against the other. As for the artists who have turned to abstract painting since the late 1970s, when they don’t re-enact previous artistic situations according to postmodern strategies, they either believe in immediate harmony, emphasise destruction as a creative tool or depend on the unleashing of contradictory elements.
In Riley’s most recent paintings, the Intervals series, she applies the three-stage principles she established in the creation of Movement in Squares in 1961. The particular situation stated here of four to six horizontal bands of four to five colours forms a rectangular unit on a white (or, rather, an off-white) surface. This unit is repeated vertically several times, admittedly with changes in the order of colours, so that its regularity, perceived at first glance as a kind of primary order, is thrown into question and destroyed. The mind and the eye become agitated and attempt to follow the differences between each of the four or five units in a process of comparison. When it has become clear that there is no stable intellectual principle behind the permutations – but only a visual search – the mind and eye can engage in and accept the harmony of the whole picture, established as it has been by the rhythm of changes in its units… As has generally been the case in Riley’s recent paintings, the Intervals take stock of the means and ways that the artist has used previously.
In collaboration with Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin | Paris | London