Swimming through a diamond – Bridget Riley Art Exhibition London review
Almost anyone who loves art would be interested to know what the first experience of discovery is like. The moment when a painter notices that ‘something’, and has the opportunity to capture it all. Leading to the dream of a fantastic career as an artist, with an absolute breath-taking body of work, accumulating in a career beyond belief that makes you go goggle-eyed.
I imagine Bridget Riley in 1960, aged 29 years old walking by a lake. Her arms are heavy, after a frustrating session in the studio. She is young, gifted and hopefully going places. Her overalls are covered in splats of paint from her studies at Goldsmith and the Royal College of Art in 1955.
She is curious; however, the ideas are not coming today. Then by chance, as she glances across the water and suddenly the light flickers showing the cursive rhythms of the water. A light pings on Riley’s retina and onto her optic nerve. She is delighted as she becomes super aware of the art of looking. Riley slowly realises she is watching her own perception at work.
Bridget Riley Art Exhibition London review – Until 26 Jan 2019
Bridget runs back to the studio, almost tripping over herself in excitement. She pushes the studio door wide open and runs across to her small library of books. She grabs a book on George Seurat, opening it on the page with the painting ‘The Bridge of Courbevoie’, and stands there staring and taking it all in.
It hits her! Bridget realizes that she needs to take a magnifying glass to nature. She needs to zoom in on it. If she dissolves the forms into the essence of what she sees, just like Seurat and Monet did, she just might have found the answer.
Her mind moves past the subject matter in front of her to that moment by the lake which has become locked in her mind. The movement of the water, the swirls and waves dance and move in her mind like abstract shapes. Riley looks at the Seurat painting and she knows what she has to do.
Stuart Bush Studio Notes – Swimming through a diamond
Bridget, in a frenzy, starts by making a copy of the Seurat, not an exact copy, but a copy focusing on the evanescent play of light. By using pure colour, Bridget interprets the rhythms. The energy sparks and its swirls are all still in front of her mind. Her own momentum gathers speed and builds up into one mighty occasion. She steps back, then back again to look at what she has just painted in order to access it and discover the work of her mind. Bridget names the work ‘Pink Landscape’ (1960). She then grabs her sketchbook and pencil and sketched out her first abstract form for a black and white painting.
Bridget wrote on reflection in 2010:
“On that fine day, all was bespattered with the glitter of bright sunshine with tiny pinpoints of virtually black shadow. It was as though one was swimming through a diamond.”
I’m not sure if this is exactly how it happened. Obviously, I was not there in 1960. However, if this experience happened to you, would you be able to recognise the moment? Would you know what to do? Or would that moment, that one simple idea that could be the beginning of ‘something’ special, slip by without you realising that it existed? I often ponder these questions.
Bridget Riley Art – related art reviews
If there is one thing you need to do this Christmas, it is to go to her retrospective show at the Hayward Gallery in London. You need to see what the most impactful artist alive today has been doing for the last 60 years. When I walked in, I was in that place by the lake with Bridget Riley in 1960. It was a delight.
After the black and white mural on the wall. After the black and white canvas of the 1960s and after ‘Continuum’ (1963/2005) was an almost seasick inducing installation. I hit a kaleidoscope of colour. A kaleidoscope of happiness. Like the dots in the Seurat’s painting, but this work has been extended into lines that are forever in harmony. Circles, diagonals, squares and curves are like twists of a body. By painting dots of complementary colours juxtaposed together, Bridget Riley has shown me what I need to know about the interdependent relationship between colour, tone and contrast. Words cannot do Bridget Riley’s work justice. I now know that the outcome depends on the actual size through colour trials. I suddenly realised that I need to stop writing and get back to the studio to paint.
In the studio, my legs feel wobbly with fear and excitement about what comes next. I know I need to try out my ideas, make my own parallel to nature, from representation through to abstraction. I need to let myself go, to capture and lose myself in painting. Only by proceeding will I find out how to adjust the outcome. Using passion, appearance and sensation, the experiential world is mine for the taking. I have just been given the key to generating another parallel world. I can’t wait to send out a new painting into the world.
Bridget Riley Art
Please join me for the roller coaster ride.
"I am delighted when I have a paintbrush in my hand, making something I have never seen before"