Sunday, October 09, 2011

REVIEW - Bridget Riley - Kettles Yard

Bridget Riley's early Op Art became one of the visual touchstone of the swinging 60's. Her visual experiments have continued since then with the introduction of vibrant bands of colour. The result, though carefully structured and prepared for, is never sterile, it has warmth. Riley seems not at all concerned with putting her heart or the psychological mess of her mind on the canvas. No shock values or the messiness of self-expression here. What her paintings possess is an abundant sense of enjoyment with what she is doing with colour, shape, pattern and form. That said, her paintings do communicate something of her personality, a certain steadiness and balance, an unfussy unpretentious clarity.

Looked at closely, her paintings are never super pristine. The edges are not ultra sharp, the surfaces she paints on are rough watercolour paper or coarse linen, which mitigates against perfectly clean execution. This paint surface, however, does benefit by bringing greater depth and a richer softness to the colour quality. That said, Riley's paintings shimmer, and resist the eye settling on any particular area. Your gaze is kept constantly moving, engaging with being visually scintillated. Reproductions can never quite capture the immediate effect of her painting upon your perception. Her work is ripped off constantly, she's always been accessible and her ideas are readily adopted by popular commercial media, via wrapping papers, cards or wallpaper designs. They have to tame her though, by toning down the colour contrasts and oscillating quality that she revels in.

Other painters like Freud or Bacon might grab the headlines, for what they tell us about the grisly end of the human condition. However,Riley creates huge masterly work that celebrates another aspect of being human, our capacity to express and enjoy our exuberance. This is joyful painting, one that is optically experimental, but also uplifting and affirmative. It also possesses a truth and universality that can be undervalued in the pursuit of, and wallowing in, the oppressive shadows.

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