With an unprecedented drive for clarity, and with great precision and discipline, Bridget Riley (b. 1931) has crafted a sensational body of work over more than fifty years. The British artist is known for her huge colourful canvases and optical effects, which have drawn a wide-ranging public to abstract art. Though she makes work on a flat surface, the play of lines makes the surface bend, buckle, undulate, or twist. Riley manages to play off colour against form – the two traditional ingredients of painting – in strictly orchestrated movements that often completely envelop the viewer. This has made her one of the most revered artists of her generation. Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, which has close ties with the ‘grande dame of British painting’, is staging a special retrospective this summer focusing on ‘the curve’, a pictorial motif that has constantly recurred throughout her career.
Although Bridget Riley’s paintings are deeply rooted in the tradition of painting, she reverses the expected relationship between viewer and canvas, creating an optical game with her dynamic compositions that shift as the viewer moves. This has led to her work being regarded as optical art. The curved line plays a key role in Bridget Riley’s oeuvre. The retrospective The Curve Paintings. 1961-2014, featuring more than fifty paintings and preliminary studies, shows how this pictorial element has recurred over the past fifty years, from her black-and-white work of the 1960s to the recent richly coloured mural Rajasthan (2012). Riley repeatedly explores the potential of the undulating movement to set colour and line in motion in new ways.
From Mondrian to the art of the past
In her quest to find the right relationship between colour and form Riley has drawn inspiration from various cultures, and explored the work of various artists. She began her quest with Seurat, learned a lot from the Egyptians’ use of colour and has connected visual elements with the rhythm of Medieval song. The work of Piet Mondrian has fascinated Bridget Riley for many years. Not only because they both create geometrical compositions, but because Piet Mondrian spent his entire life poetically translating a deep desire to harmonise the contrasts of paint, form and colour. It was above all her fascination for Mondrian that first drew Riley to Gemeentemuseum Den Haag in 1996. In 2012 she won the Sikkens Prize (the first female artist to do so), after which the museum staged an exhibition of past and new work by Riley in its Projects Gallery where Composition with Circles 9 was installed. The permanent exhibition Mondrian & De Stijl also includes a gallery with recent work by Riley, highlighting her direct link to Mondrian.
Grande dame of British painting
Bridget Riley lives and works in London. She studied at Goldsmith’s College and the Royal College of Art. In the 1960s she found instant fame with her black-and-white paintings of geometric motifs that appear to move when you look at them for a long time. Riley herself was not entirely happy with her overnight fame. She painstakingly searched to establish a solid relationship with the tradition of Western painting. Riley believes abstraction is still in its infancy, and she hopes to take it a step further, however small. Bridget Riley has received numerous awards and prizes, including the international prize for painting at the 1968 Venice Biennale, the Goslar Kaiserring in 2009 and the 12th Rubens Prize awarded by the city of Siegen. The exhibition, The Curve Paintings. 1961-2014, was previously displayed at the De La Warr Pavilion, a modernist masterpiece by Mendelson and Chermayeff, in the United Kingdom.