Catalogue of the Exhibition

Over a seven-decade career, Bridget Riley (b. 1931) has used color, line, and geometric pattern to explore the dynamic nature of visual perception in paintings, drawings, and screen prints. She first achieved international prominence in the early 1960s with her distinctive black-and-white paintings, their rhythmic lines and curves appearing to vibrate across the canvas. Since then, Riley has relied on deceptively simple shapes to startling effect. Working in series, the artist gradually expanded her palette, introducing gray tonal variations before shifting to vivid color juxtapositions. Riley’s arresting paintings harness the disruptive and harmonious relationships among color, line, and form with compositions of remarkable complexity and vibrancy.

Selected by the artist, the works in this exhibition comprise the largest survey of Riley’s work in the United States in twenty years. The show opens with an in-depth examination of Riley’s seminal monochrome paintings of the 1960s on the third floor and presents the full range of her oeuvre in color on the second floor. Assembling Riley’s most iconic paintings alongside rarely seen works, the exhibition traces the evolution of her deep engagement with the fundamentals of visual perception.

Black and White: 1961 to 1968

In the early 1960s, Riley worked exclusively in black and white. The lines, curves, circles, and triangles arranged on her surfaces result in energetic patterns, which appear to shift and pulse in space. Riley first came to international attention when her black-and-white painting Current (1964) was included in The Responsive Eye, a groundbreaking exhibition of geometric abstraction at the Museum of Modern Art in 1965. The following year, Riley began to introduce tonal variations in gray, creating a completely new sensory response: perception is slowed down through the appearance of depth and spatial recession. Riley has described this use of gray as a testing ground and a bridge she had to cross to meet the challenge of color.

Color: 1967 to 2022

Riley unveiled her first color paintings in 1968 at the Venice Biennale. That year, she also became the first Briton — and the first woman — to win the prestigious international painting prize. The works on this floor trace the evolution of her use of color. Her earliest color paintings consisted of vertical stripes in a restricted palette, arranged exactingly on the canvas. Riley’s ideas about color were profoundly shaped by her experience of nature, both at home and on her travels. Riley’s visits to Australia, Egypt, and the islands of Bali, Java, Japan, and Tahiti prompted an expansion in her palette. Although the line served as Riley’s primary visual vehicle through the 1980s, she later introduced rhomboids, curvilinear planes, and other dynamic forms to evoke sensations of space, movement, and light. Through visual color relationships, Riley creates canvases that radiate energy and motion.

Works by Constable and Delacroix

“Looking carefully at paintings is the best training you can have as a young painter,” Riley has said of her deep appreciation of the work of painters of the past. For this exhibition she has selected a watercolor by Eugène Delacroix (1798–1863) and an oil study by John Constable (1776–1837) to hang alongside her work.