The life of Riley revisited

Her bold geometric forms epitomise the spirit of the 1960s. Head to the National Gallery to catch the retrospective of the iconoclast Bridget Riley
Get the look - from left: Kvadrat cushions (from £65; zuzunaga.com); Harri Koskinen fabrics for Marimekko (£35 per metre from skandium.com); Hexo Seagrass wallpaper in chocolate (£110 per metre), concentric cushions (£45). Available from edclondon.com
Get the look - from left: Kvadrat cushions (from £65; zuzunaga.com); Harri Koskinen fabrics for Marimekko (£35 per metre from skandium.com); Hexo Seagrass wallpaper in chocolate (£110 per metre), concentric cushions (£45). Available from edclondon.com
Search out the Sixties look in fashion or interiors and dazzling, eye-popping, black and white Op Art images are sure to pop up. They epitomise the spirit of that decade and were inspired by the work of painter Bridget Riley (born 1931).

Riley's success came after her inclusion in the Responsive Eye exhibition in New York and a sell-out solo show in 1965. Her triumph led to the plagiarism of her imagery on a grand scale; fashion shops were soon full of garments and accessories based on imitations of her paintings. The look spread to interior products and she ruefully discovered that there was little artistic copyright protection.

Riley feared that she "wouldn't be taken seriously for another 20 years", but she was, and in 1971 the first of numerous retrospectives toured Europe, including at the Hayward, where it attracted 40,000 visitors.

Her 2003 Tate retrospective attracted 98,000 visitors, so her new show at the National Gallery - Bridget Riley: New Paintings and Related Work - is sure to be a great attraction. It will also usher in more Op Art-look products.

Bridget Riley's signature Op Art style served as an inspiration to many
Bridget Riley's signature Op Art style served as an inspiration to many
Riley herself rejected the label given to her early (1961-65) black-and-white paintings. "People at the time thought, and some people still seem to think, that they were paintings having to do with optical experiment. Really they were an attempt to say something about stabilities and instabilities, certainties and uncertainties." She didn't, as many claimed, base her work on scientific theory.

Surprisingly her working method involves the study of traditional Western European paintings (hence the inclusion in her show of four works from the National's own collection.) Her clear analysis of their use of shape, form and colour and its relation to her own paintings, is explained in the exhibition. One influence was Pointillist Georges Seurat.

Post-1965, Riley increasingly used colour; creating abstract, rhythmic patterns that distract and unsettle the eye of the observer, offering no comforting focal point.

Togo sofa by Michel Ducaroy in Shanghai fabric by Cristian Zuzunaga for Kvadrat (£1,845)
Togo sofa by Michel Ducaroy in Shanghai fabric by Cristian Zuzunaga for Kvadrat (£1,845)
She studied life drawing at college and today does meticulous drawings for her assistants to execute. At the National, one is of 100 or more black circles and another is of coloured diagonals and verticals. Both make the viewer lose their sense of space.

In her 80th year Riley's work remains influential. Her biggest architectural piece (2000) is the hanging, curtainlike installation in the atrium of the Norman Foster-designed European headquarters of Citibank in London. Extending over 18 floors it consists of three planes of coloured aluminium plates suspended by steel cables which alter according to light conditions in the tower.

Bridget Riley: New Paintings and Related Work, Sunley Room, National Gallery. November 24 to May 22, 2011; 10am to 6pm daily, Friday until 9pm. Admission free.

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