Bridget Riley: Colours, Stripes, Planes and Curves, until 31st December 2011, Kettle’s Yard Cambridge
For fifty years Bridget Riley has been one of the world’s leading abstract painters. For most of that time colour and our perception of its fleeting nature have been at the heart of her work. This exhibition, organised uniquely for Kettle’s Yard, takes paintings and studies from the last thirty years to trace her progress through the agency of stripes, planes and curves and back to stripes. Despite being abstract, Bridget Riley’s paintings are rooted in a childhood of looking at nature. ‘My mother … would always point things out: the colours of shadows, the way water moves, how changes in the shape of a cloud are responsible for different colours in the sea, the dapples and reflections that come up from pools inside caves.’ Art school training in life drawing instilled a sense of structure, since when a continuing study of the art of the past has stimulated and informed her work.
Her early colour paintings were strongly influenced by the discoveries of Seurat and the Impressionists. But visiting Egypt in the winter of 1979-80, she found a palette of four colours, plus black and white, which had endured for thousands of years and these became the basis for a series of vertical stripe paintings exploring their potential for interaction. ‘It was a very sturdy, solid group of colours with infinite flexibility.’ Study of Cézanne, especially his practice of drawing with colour, and a desire to dig deeper into pictorial space led to the introduction of planes in grids formed by the junction of intersecting verticals and diagonals – and of colours and contrasts. And then a longing for the return of curves and to work with larger areas led to paintings where flat planes of colour appear to weave in space in compositions of lyrical and exuberant rhythms.
Most recently, using a close harmony of hues and tones spiked with strong contrasts, she has again taken up stripes which, for all their formal rigour, offer increased depth and radiate a tender yet powerful warmth. The exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue with a conversation between Bridget Riley and Michael Harrison, published jointly with Ridinghouse.