diamond geezer

 Monday, September 22, 2003

don't stare at this for too longThe life of Riley

More than 30 years ago my Dad took me to see an exhibition of Bridget Riley's paintings at a top London art gallery. Last weekend, sandwiched inbetween our Open House visits, he took me again.

It was way back in 1971 that I was dragged along to the Hayward Gallery on London's South Bank for my first look at Riley's op-art paintings. Her black and white geometrical designs appealed to a young child in short trousers, looking much more like optical illusions than traditional paintings. Her work was full of black stripes on a white background, or was it white stripes on a black background, it was hard to tell. This being pre-adolescence, I also rather liked the canvases smothered in greasy black spots. After a quick shuffle round the gallery I went back to my childhood and Bridget evolved into colour.

And then this weekend, with me now older than my dad was back then, we returned to view her work again. The Tate (Britain) is holding a Bridget Riley retrospective, starting off with the black and white paintings I'd seen before, and then bringing the portfolio up to date. Bridget's next works featured coloured stripes, repeated like barcodes but on a much larger scale. Some were all straight like a deckchair pattern, others were subtly curved and waved. She clearly had a thing for stripes because there were rooms of the things, eventually losing the black and white altogether. After about 20 years of doing lines, Ms Riley developed into multi-coloured overlapping parallelograms, and from there into her current obsession with curvy-section things. And circles.

Bridget never paints anything herself any more, she just gives precise instructions to her assistants telling them where all the geometrical shapes are going to go (and if you look carefully you can still see the pencil marks). One room of the exhibition was given over to her sketches and preparatory work, all scrupulously carefully drawn, with numerous colour-changes and notes scribbled in the margin. The whole show was precise and mathematical, but full of subtle light, warmth and feeling. Where else can you stand in a large room, stare at the wall and feel woozy for under a tenner (except in most pubs, of course). Me and my Dad, we'd both recommend a visit, but the exhibition closes next Sunday so you'd better hurry. Who knows, your next chance might be in 2035.

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