Bridget Riley 1960-6623 May - 13 July 2012
In 2012 Hazlitt Holland-Hibbert and Karsten Schubert presented, Bridget Riley: Works 1960–66, the first exhibition ever solely dedicated to the artist’s iconic black and white period. Spread over both galleries the show featured forty-five works, including major paintings from public and private collections, gouache studies as well as the complete prints.
The show was accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue which features three major historic texts; interviews with Maurice de Sausmarez and David Sylvester both conducted in 1967, and ‘Perception is the Medium’ (1965), which is a manifesto-style text in which Riley sets out her artistic position with the clarity for which all her writing since has become famous.
Please click here to buy a catalogue
Please scroll down to see highlights from interviews with David Sylvester and Maurice de Sausmarez with installation shots of the exhibition.
Riley in conversation with David SylvesterExcerpt from 'Studio International' - March 1967
DS: You're very conscious, of course, of the optical effects that you want to present?
BR: Yes, but not entirely conscious. Though I can foresee certain things happening, it's such an enormous field that things will always happen that you don't anticipate.
DS: How often do you get optical effects which you completely failed to anticipate and that you want to suppress?
Quite often. Sometimes I can control them. Sometimes I can suppress them without damaging the rest. But, for instance, in the painting called Breathe, those echoes that run up from the base and shatter the forms right up to the top - though they are necessary in three-quarters of the painting, I don't want them at the top. But I cannot get rid of them at the top without eliminating them from the whole canvas altogether. They are a flaw, one that I have to accept.
DS: What of Deny? It seems to me that two optical effects happen there. One is that the little ovals, when seen from a certain distance, seem like pieces of reflecting steel, cut out and stuck to the painting, shiny and light-catching. Was that part of the intention?
BR: No, it wasn't.
DS: Secondly, there's a curious effect, when you stand close to the painting, of a thick grey mist or smoke between you and the painting. Was that part of the intention?
BR: Yes...obscuring, negating it.
DS: What else was in your intention?
BR: To oppose a structural movement with a tonal movement, to release increased colour through reducing the tonal contrast. In the colour relationship of the darkest oval with the ground, the change of colour is far more pronounced than it is between the lightest oval and the ground, where you get a tonal contrast - almost a black and white relationship -happening instead, which knocks the colour down.
DS: Do you sometimes find that in the end an optical effect which was not one that you anticipated in a painting turns out to be the one that interests you most?
BR: Sometimes. And sometimes I'll examine that one separately, more fully in another situation.
Photo: Bridget Riley by Mayotte Magnus, 1978, National Portrait Gallery
Riley in conversation with Maurice de SausmarezExcerpt from 'Art International' - April 1967
MdS: On your return from Italy in the summer of 1960 and, prior to that, in your tremendous interest in Seurat, it seemed to me that things were already beginning to germinate relative to your subsequent way of working. Would you agree?
BR: Well, one of the things I remember about working in Italy at that time was that I started to dismember, to dissect, the visual experience. I tried to analyse the colour of the situation, the form, the linear axes and the tone in quite consciously separate statements.
MdS: I well remember the separate colour units, almost like considerably enlarged passages from a neo-impressionist picture. If these pointillist-like fragments could have been ‘blown up’ to an even larger scale they would have become entirely optically-operative works.
BR: You are probably thinking of a painting of a pink landscape based on a view over a huge plain. Now, that was a powerful visual and emotional experience. The heat coming of f that plain was quite incredible. It shattered any possibility of a topographical rendering of it. BR: Because of the heat and the colour reverberations, to be faithful to that experience it was only possible to ‘fire it off’ again in colour relationships of optically vibrant units of colour. It wouldn’t in fact have mattered if those had been black and white, or green and red – the facts of local colour were quite unimportant. The important thing was to get an equivalent sensation on the canvas.
MdS: Would you say that if there was any relationship between your thoughts at that time and the Futurists, whose work you had then recently seen in Milan, Boccioni for example, it was in the attempt to work out a vocabulary of signs, a vocabulary of marks, a vocabulary of pictorially structural elements, which, when brought together, would evoke certain states of feeling or states of mind – not descriptively in the usual illustrative manner but symbolically?
BR: Yes, it is a question of substitution. As Cézanne said, painting is a parallel to nature and the expressive quality comes through the structural means, through honouring both.
MdS: Would you say that it is this that links your work in the pictorial field with the idea of serialism in modern music – the attempt to control all the constituent parts of the compositional process by employing extremely disciplined means in a fully free and expressive way?
BR: Yes, I think serialism is a very good parallel because in the early phases of working on an idea, I might for example choose a unit, say an oval, and I ‘pace’ this unit, as I call it. I put it through its paces, I push it to the fullest extent where it loses, or almost loses, its ovalness, its oval characteristics. I see, so to speak, what an oval will do.
MdS: Do you do this in your mind or do you actually materialise it on paper?
BR: I do it physically because there is no possible way of doing this purely conceptually.