The Space Between: An Introduction to the Exhibition

  • Maryam Ohadi-Hamadani

The pleasures of sight have one characteristic in common — they take you by surprise.
—Bridget Riley, “Pleasures of Sight,” 1984

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Bridget Riley, Enchant, 2004. Dia Art Foundation, gift of Louise and Leonard Riggio

Plumbing perceptual, sensorial, and optical depths, Bridget Riley has spent almost seven decades creating work that exploits both disruptive and harmonious relationships between line, form, tonality, and color — and elicits startling physiological and psychological responses. Born in Britain in 1931, and internationally recognized as one of the most important and influential artists living today, Riley has built a prolific career. Yet her exhibition at the Yale Center for British Art is the artist’s first major survey in the United States in more than two decades.1 One may ask why a well-respected artist — whose introduction to international audiences came by way of her inclusion in the pivotal 1965 exhibition The Responsive Eye at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) — should be relatively absent from the exhibition schedules of museums across the United States. Perhaps Riley imposed her own exile?

One of the consequences of Op art in the 1960s was the media hype surrounding it, which led to the reproduction of patterns from Riley’s paintings on fabrics for dresses featured in Madison Avenue’s shop windows. Her works were commodified for faddish, fast fashion, and the artist predicted it would “take at least twenty years before anyone [looked] at [her] paintings seriously again.” Her inclusion in subsequent US and British exhibitions proved this prediction false — her work was included in Documenta 4 and won the international prize in painting at the 1968 Venice Biennale. (Riley was the first woman and first Briton to receive the award.) Yet her assumption made her initial visit to New York in 1965 a formative experience. Although it was tempered by “the enormous warmth” she received from her US contemporaries, she associated the trip with “feelings of violation and disillusionment.”2 It is this origin story that begins our exhibition.

Spanning two floors of the Center, the exhibition Perceptual Abstraction separates Riley’s early black-and-white and gray tonal paintings (1961–68) from her works in color (1967–2022). The third floor, where the exhibition begins, introduces the germinal geometric abstractions shown at Riley’s first solo exhibitions in London and paintings produced at the height of her early US exposure.

Her black-and-white pieces signaled Riley’s first explorations with a range of forms: curves, disks, bands, tessellated triangles, and chevrons (or “zigs,” as the artist calls them), some of which recur in later works in color. As Riley observed, in contrast to later paintings like Rêve (1999) or Enchant (2004), which each open an interior space within the layered, shallow depths of the picture plane, her earlier pieces activate the space between the work and the spectator.

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Bridget Riley, Movement in Squares, 1961. Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre
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Bridget Riley, Rêve, 1999. Courtesy of the artist

Diverging from the austere achromatism of the works from Riley’s early period, the second floor is flooded with color and light. “Color,” the artist explains, “is the one material through which everything is brought into existence,”3 achieved by her studied handling of it on a large, impressive scale: the paintings envelop and encompass viewers.4 As early as 1972, Riley described the spatial and perceptual relationship between viewer and work as an “area of activity — of light.”5 In color the sensation of light is fully exploited by the artist, produced by formal and intuitive relationships between color and form. As William Seitz observed in 1965, Riley was already investigating the effects of fugitive color in her black-and-white paintings, engendered by the contraction and expansion of drawn line and form and by their opposing forces of “stabilities and instabilities, certainties and uncertainties.”6 Seitz describes how our eyes are “bombarded with pure energy” upon viewing Current, which results in “effects of color . . . usually pale pink, gold, or blue.”7

Riley expanded her palette of grays suffused with subtle warm and cool tones, in works such as Arrest 2 (1965) and Deny 1 (1966), into color — beginning with Late Morning and Chant 2, exhibited in 1968 at the Venice Biennale. Periodically returning to significant forms the artist explored from 1964 onward, the paintings and works on paper displayed on this floor showcase the connections between Riley’s early and later practices.

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Bridget Riley, Arrest 2, 1965. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (Purchase, acquired through the generosity of the William T. Kemper Foundation Commerce Bank, Trustee), 2001.1
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Bridget Riley, Late Morning 1, 1967. Courtesy of the artist

Riley’s early exploration of the shaped canvas, her use of forms like disks and chevrons, and a shift to monumental scale were concurrent with similar developments in work by contemporaries such as Ad Reinhardt, Kenneth Noland, and Larry Poons. Yet these affinities end with Riley’s careful consideration of the perceptual effects of color. Evident throughout Riley’s career is a sustained study of her own practice, as she returns to distinct formal concerns explored in her earliest abstractions. “Every painter has a long conversation with their work,” she has remarked, “and the longer that you live, the conversation goes on stretching far back. So it’s a reconnoiter for me.”8

What follows is an overview of Riley’s oeuvre. The works in the exhibition trace her exploration of black and white as formal, sensorial absolutes, beginning in 1961; her experiments with tonal modulations, shifting from chromatic restraint to liberated, saturated color from 1967 onward; and the spatiality, movement, sensation of light, and “stabilities and instabilities” of line and form that have remained steadfast throughout her practice. For Riley, this exhibition is conceived as a response to her US reception; it includes paintings purchased by US collectors as well as works from her own collection that have been exhibited in key shows throughout the United States and the United Kingdom. The selection points to significant developments in Riley’s oeuvre, which converge with and diverge from that of her contemporaries.

Absolutes: Black Is Not White

After her trip to New York in 1965 for the exhibition The Responsive Eye at MoMA, Riley began to describe her use of space as “more American than English,” that is, as a shallow, “non-focal” space that she felt “originated with [Piet] Mondrian and was first completely articulated by [Jackson] Pollock.”9 It was the unfocused, nonhierarchical handling of composition, form, and space that galvanized the artist’s first experiments in abstraction, and this allover quality is central to Riley’s black-and-white paintings.

The exhibition begins with Riley’s breakthrough work of 1961, Movement in Squares, the first painting to fully engage with a gridded sequence of geometric forms. Using the simple unit of the square but compressing its width toward the center, the painting appears to fold in on itself — a startling perceptual effect that set the tone for the black-and-white paintings that followed. Movement in Squares is among the group of works shown in Riley’s earliest solo exhibition at Gallery One in 1962, alongside Horizontal Vibration (1961), Off (1963) and Uneasy Centre (1963).

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Bridget Riley, Uneasy Centre, 1963. The Lambrecht-Schadeberg Collection, Museum für Gegenwartskunst Siegen
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Bridget Riley, Climax, 1963. Courtesy of the artist

Her exploration continues with the “zigs” of her short-lived series of shaped canvases painted between 1963 and 1964: Climax, Shuttle 2, and Suspension. The emphasis on spatiality beyond the painting’s boundaries appealed to Riley, and these works accentuated the material autonomy of painting-as-object,10 yet she abandoned the shaped canvas shortly afterward, only returning to this format in 2012.11 Riley instead became interested in the relationships among forms, the absolutes of black and white, and the viewer’s perception of space and movement. Working with a scaffolding of formal elements and structures allowed Riley to generate “visual sensations, but certainly not to the exclusion of emotion,” she explains.12 “One of my aims is that these two responses shall be experienced as one and the same.”13 For example, a circle becomes a rotating, vibrating vortex in Blaze 4 (1964), and the slow humming lines of Horizontal Vibration (1961) present “a fluctuating surface” that “operates like the action of a whip.”14 From the tensions in these formal constitutions and limitations, visual effects and emotional states arise, akin to the bodily and perceptual experiences one feels in nature.

With Exposure (1966), Riley expanded to a landscape format, in which curved, compact black lines undulate in equal rhythmic measure, creating a luminous energy that vibrates across and beyond the canvas — a “shallow push-pull situation” between the spectator and the painting.15 For Riley, the space between is where the painting occurs, achieved by her repetitive, dense use of line that conveys an unstable movement, hovering between the viewer and the marked, material form.

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Bridget Riley, Exposure, 1966. Guggenheim Abu Dhabi

Reviewing Riley’s 1966 solo exhibition at Richard Feigen Gallery in New York, where Exposure was first shown, critic Rosalind Krauss found that the artist’s “pictorial notions derived unquestionably from the canons of all-overness established by advanced American art of the 1950s.”16 For Riley, as for Pollock, the absence of a center within the picture plane could generate new sensational experiences that a compositional focal point could not. Yet, in contrast to Krauss’s assumption, Riley felt indebted to the allover spatiality of Mondrian — Pollock was merely another of his disciples. A prolific writer, Riley has rarely pointed to contemporaries as influential to her as Georges Seurat, Piet Mondrian, or Eugène Delacroix.17 As an addendum to the exhibition, Riley selected a study by John Constable and a watercolor by Delacroix to signal the importance of historical art to her practice. Although her study of color and light began with works by nineteenth-century European artists, it was also influenced by the traditions of Chinese scroll painting, ancient Egyptian funerary art, Indian temple facades, and Persian miniatures.

The new “perceptual abstraction” — Seitz’s term for Op art — was characterized as too European, even as anti-American art, by critics such as Krauss, Thomas Hess, Lucy Lippard, and Barbara Rose and by artists Donald Judd and Frank Stella (whose work, criticism notwithstanding, was also included in The Responsive Eye). A 1964 interview with Stella and Judd, raising questions about Op art, was overshadowed by discussions of differences between European and US abstraction. European modernism was perceived as old-fashioned, “a kind of curiosity — very dreary,” according to Stella.18 Riley considered her work indebted, in part, to Neoplastic Constructivism, unlike Judd, who was adamant that he had never been influenced by the Bauhaus (“too long ago to think about,” he said19); instead, he looked to his contemporaries in the United States.20

Both Judd and Stella outlined what they felt was a thoroughly European visual language: illusionism, an emphasis on symmetry, balanced composition, and small-scale supports. Judd found that “those effects tend to carry with them all the structures, values, feelings of the whole European tradition.”21 Following a line of rationalistic thinking that began with the philosopher René Descartes, Judd held that European abstraction was overly composed — focused on parts to make a whole, rather than focused on an autonomous object. Riley, like Judd, was considering similar formal views of European and US abstraction. In naming her use of space “American” — “open space, shallow space, multifocal space” — she was positioning it in opposition to “centralised European space, the focally centred situation of the European tradition.”22

The lack of a center or central focal point, as Riley astutely observed, was the distinguishing dynamic of modern art, originating from the gradual elimination of spiritual contexts like religion and mythology that once framed painting’s conventions. This shift led modern artists to work with an uncertainty of visual meaning and fixed reality, to begin from a “placelessness” and an openness to interpretation,23 which was the new, postwar humanism: “Our bearings still suffer from the concept or suppositions of Renaissance theory, which is ‘man as the measure of all things,’” Riley stated in 1971.24 “But man is only a part of a bigger whole and this whole is neither centripetal nor centrifugal. It is much more egalitarian.”25 Riley finds the framework for spiritual contexts — once found outside the arena of painting, in our external reality — within the mechanics of painting itself.

In conversation with David Sylvester in 1967, Riley said there are “colossal energies involved” in her paintings, “in the medium . . . in the units, intervals and lines.”26 Unlike Pollock’s proclamation, “I am nature,” which translated materially onto canvas as the individualistic, energetic mark of the artist’s hand, Riley’s concern is with the energy manifested from within the formal relationships established in painting: “It’s the recognition of the sensation without the actual incident which prompted it,” she explained in conversation with Andrew Graham-Dixon.27 Repetitive forms and structures that express energetic, emotional states are constant in Riley’s early paintings, but the lack of a center remains consistent throughout her oeuvre.

Riley met Ad Reinhardt at a dinner hosted in London by then Whitechapel director Bryan Robertson and encountered him again during her trip to New York for The Responsive Eye. In 1966, the two artists collaborated on an issue of Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Poor Old Tired Horse, pairing Reinhardt’s black letter poetry with Riley’s drawn elliptical forms. “There is just one image, one imagelessness, one plane, one depth, one flatness, one color, one colorlessness, one light, one space, one time, one timelessness” Reinhardt wrote in that issue of the journal.28 The repetitive structure of Reinhardt’s poem is a textual equivalence to the gridded, uncentered quality of the paintings such as Deny 1 that Riley produced during this period.

During this time, Riley also abandoned the absolutes of black and white and began exploring gray tonalities, introducing colored grays and blues. She explored movement based on the interaction between formal elements: ellipticals first occur as tonal disks, transforming into stretched ovals in Hesitate (1964), a work also included in The Responsive Eye. Arrest 2 and Deny 1 depart from the monotonality of Hesitate through Riley’s introduction of warm and cool tones. The thinness and thickness of line and the “movement” of the ovals marked a new breakthrough for Riley.

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Bridget Riley, Hesitate, 1964. Tate: Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery, 1985
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Bridget Riley, Deny 1, 1966. JPMorgan Chase Art Collection

She calls the elliptical a “directional circle” — “light” and “fast” at its ends, but “heavy and static” in the middle.29 The elliptical form offers repetition with constant variation, with the centered oval opening of each ellipse remaining fixed while its black-lipped envelope rotates on its axis. Like Reinhardt, Riley describes the latent forces within her own paintings as opposing energies.30 Elements in her paintings are paradoxically constant and destructive, she writes, and “as a result of the cyclic movement of repose, disturbance and repose, the original situation is re-stated.”31 Ellipticals in Deny 1 move as their axes rotate, but movement is also facilitated by cool grays set in motion against the warmth of the ground as their saturation shifts from light to dark and vice versa. Riley later described this group of paintings as growing out of and in opposition to the binaries of black and white, as a way of finding “something which operated on more levels, was capable of more development, had a more grey’d quality, like the indeterminate nature of reality.”32

Riley returns again and again to the significance of the landscape of Cornwall, her childhood home, as the inception of her visual world. Of the equivalences between its landscape and her formal considerations of color and form, she describes “a wide range of subtle shades of greys, warm and cold-coloured greys in the slate of the rocks and stone walls, the colours of the sea, the sky, and the mists that are never far away.”33 “For me,” Bridget Riley wrote in 1977, “nature is not landscape, but the dynamism of visual forces — an event rather than an appearance.”34

Into Color

In her black-and-white paintings, Riley was already thinking about optical mixing and perceptual color, made manifest in Hesitate, in the subtle cool- and warm-hued ellipses of the Deny series and in the suite of screen prints Untitled (Nineteen Greys) (1968). Her first foray into full color, with the Late Morning and Chant series, abandoned grayed disks for vertical or horizontal bands of color. Although Riley’s rejection of forms like the disk or circle was a formal decision (one she would return to in the 2017 series Measure for Measure), it was perhaps partly driven by the critical responses to The Responsive Eye, which found perceptual abstraction dependent on pictorial space and “trompe-l’oeil illusionism.”35 This was one criticism lobbied at Riley’s work that she felt inclined to set right in her essay “Perception is the Medium,” published in 1965: “Trompe-l’oeil . . . is no more relevant to my intentions than the blueness of the sky is relevant to a blue mark in an Abstract-Expressionist painting.”36

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Bridget Riley, Late Morning, 1967–68. Tate: Purchased 1968

British critic Lawrence Alloway criticized the responses to the exhibition for their formalist, Greenbergian insistence that recognizable forms and geometric shapes were antithetical to the purity of the truly abstract: “Circles have an iconography; images become motives with histories.”37 Unless they are situated as gridded, repetitive structures, like those in Black to White Discs (1962), circles also have centers, which become focal points, as seen in the fluctuating surfaces of Uneasy Centre (1963) and Blaze 4 (1964). As Riley states with regard to the use of forms with such motives, “You can’t of course build with associations. . . . For me this means I don’t begin with the appearance of form and colors as such, but with their spatial properties.”38

Being British is not the same as being European, but the critical reception of The Responsive Eye and US exhibitions of contemporary British art that proliferated at the same time conflated British abstraction with European abstraction. It was and had often been the case that US and British critics felt British modernists were, for far too long, influenced by the art of the European continent and were ignoring their own local traditions.39 Yet, reviewers of exhibitions of contemporary British art in the United States and in Britain also faulted British artists for being too “literary,” too illustrative, too “fussy and provincial” — terms often associated with the perceived flaws of British modernism.40 Riley, although indebted to the actual landscapes of Cornwall, never described herself as an inheritor of the British landscape painting traditions of Constable and J.M.W. Turner. Yet, David Thompson found that even “the best of the new British painting, for all its confident internationalism, has not lost all its British characteristics. . . . It is generally cautious about color, and relies on fantasy or allusive reference more than it does on the sensuous, material, physical aspects of art.”41

Indeed, Riley’s initial exploration of color began cautiously. She had determined that “the basis of colour is instability,” and line a “neutral” vehicle with which to build a fluctuating field of color.42 Vertical, horizontal, and curved lines characterize Riley’s primary visual language from 1967 through the 1970s. The first color paintings are restricted to two or three colors interrupted by white — red and blue in Chant 2, with the addition of green in Late Morning. Originally developed as a cartoon in 1973 and fully realized in 2003, Elysium, rendered in thin, vertical bands of alternating magenta, turquoise, olive, and white, indicates Riley’s unceasing reflection on previous studies and paintings — as with Vapour 3 (1970/2009), which continues from a series of paintings begun in 1970. Elysium extends the exploration of color relationships and their potential to emanate light, originally begun in Chant 2 and Late Morning, but unlike the intensity conveyed in the earlier paintings, Elysium produces a softer glow.

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Bridget Riley, Elysium, 2003/1973. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 2016

“Delacroix,” Riley observed, “was convinced there were always three colours perceptually present in what we see.”43 This fugitivity of color was inspired, as Riley posits, by his visits to North Africa, where he noticed that folds of white cloth in bright sunlight carried violet shadows, and with them, the afterimages of green and yellow. Chant 2 illustrates this optical mixture between the vertical blue-and-red stripes on the white ground, emitting two different violets interrupted by yellow. The horizontal stripes of orange, violet, and green in Rise 2 (1970) and the verticality of Vapour 3 emanate iridescent optical mixtures more diffuse than in Chant 2 or Late Morning. As the artist observed of the Vapour series, it recalls “the fugitive quality of something which is obscure or difficult to penetrate. A vapour or a mist veils or hides something. It de-materializes the material and has a beauty all of its own.”44

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Bridget Riley, Rise 2, 1970. Dallas Museum of Art, Foundation for the Arts Collection, gift of Mr. and Mrs. James H. Clark

Like Delacroix, Riley found her own equivalences of spectral color in nature: for example, the rippled green and blue-violet reflections of water bubbling over rocks and floating orange-brown seaweed at an estuary in Padstow, Cornwall, “flecked with tiny fugitive crimson points.”45 Riley saw similar reflections on the Inland Sea in Japan and in the “turquoise green in the shallows of the [Mediterranean],” where atmospheric violets emerged from the green vegetation beside ocher earth.46

Rise 2 and Vapour 3 are chromatic precedents for the more recent Measure for Measure series. A series of color studies from 1970 uses the same trio of greens, oranges, and violets rendered as, instead of lines, concentric circles nestled within larger circles.47 Measure for Measure 13 (2017) marks a return to Riley’s exploration of the circle, here repeated in a grid of colored disks of gray-hued greens, violets, and oranges. In Measure for Measure 36 (2018), Riley introduces a fourth color, a turquoise green. One perceives a diagonal direction oscillating across the grid, but blink and another diagonal appears, then another, and another.48 The painting seems to vibrate. The ovals and disks that Riley likened to the Pointillist marks of Georges Seurat — as containers of visual energies, which Measure for Measure evokes in blown-up scale — also define a return to the forms of earlier paintings like Black to White Discs.49 Measure for Measure, for Riley, was a direct progression from these paintings, and she characterized the series as a solution for understanding the integral, absolute nature of the circle as a form.50

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Bridget Riley, Measure for Measure 13, 2017. Private collection
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Bridget Riley, Measure for Measure 36, 2018. Private collection

The introduction of a five-color palette, the twisted curve, and the calming effect of gray to soften the palette served as Riley’s primary visual vocabulary from 1972 until 1981 — when she began her Egyptian palette series of paintings, which explore an expansive range of colors. With Vein (1985), Riley conveys that she “organised the sequence of colours quite freely — something [she] had not done before.”51 The saturated luminescence of her palette, which she achieved with the introduction of oil, required a return to the line as a neutral vehicle. For Riley, paintings like Vein offered a new direction in her practice: “The preoccupation with methods of perception quietly shifted to the background. From [then] on I was trying to paint sensation.”52

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Bridget Riley, Vein, 1985. Collection of Albright-Knox Art Gallery, gift of Seymour H. Knox Jr., 1985

The liberated, unrestricted buoyancy of color in works like Vein led to a new stage in her practice with the introduction of multiple colors and use of black as a color (rather than as a form) in flattened rhomboidal planes — for example, in New Day (1988) and Reflection 2 (1994). Unlike the earlier works, in which the area of activity was the space between the viewer and painting, a new spatiality emerged. Riley created an interiority of space from within the picture plane by using color as an element to construct a plastic coherence within the compositions.53 This innovation is most visible in New Day and Reflection 2 and in later paintings like Rêve (1999) and Enchant (2004), in which planes of purely pigmented color advance and recede, giving viewers the impression of a space within, interrupted by intervals that hover above. Rêve and Enchant, for the artist, also signify a return to her careful study of the work of Paul Cézanne, particularly the Cubist language of planes.54

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Bridget Riley, Reflection 2, 1994. Private collection, courtesy of David Zwirner

Over the course of her career, Riley has meticulously studied the mechanics of painting, working within the relationships of form, spatiality, movement, and light. She has returned again and again to past developments in her oeuvre, refining and perfecting them, finding new relationships to exploit and new ideas to cultivate. From her initial visit to the United States — captured in her essay written specially for this publication — to the rise of her international acclaim and the present exhibition, Bridget Riley has come full circle, almost sixty years after her introduction to US audiences.

Maryam Ohadi-Hamadani is Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh and former Postdoctoral Research Associate, Yale Center for British Art.

notes


  1. Riley’s first retrospective was organized in 1970 by the Arts Council of Great Britain and shown in venues throughout the United Kingdom. The first international retrospective came to the United States, from 1978 to 1980, by way of the British Council. It opened at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo and traveled to the Neuberger Museum of Art in Purchase, New York, and to the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts in Texas, before opening in venues in Australia and Japan. In 2001, Dia Center for the Arts in New York hosted a small survey. In 2018, there was a retrospective at the Hayward Gallery, London, and the National Galleries Scotland, Edinburgh. For the catalogues to these retrospectives, see Bridget Riley: Paintings and Drawings 1951–71 (London: Arts Council, 1971); Robert Kudielka, ed., Bridget Riley: Works, 1959–78 (London: British Council, 1978); Lynne Cooke, ed., Bridget Riley: Reconnaissance (New York: Dia Center for the Arts, 2001); Michael Bracewell, ed., Bridget Riley (Edinburgh and London: National Galleries of Scotland and Hayward Gallery, 2019). ↩︎

  2. Bridget Riley, “Perception is the Medium” (1965), in The Eye’s Mind, 130. ↩︎

  3. Bridget Riley, “The Experience of Painting: Talking to Mel Gooding” (1988), in The Eye’s Mind, 200. ↩︎

  4. Riley’s paintings become monumental in scale after her trip to New York in 1965 and the opening of London’s S.P.A.C.E at St. Katherine Docks (artist studios founded by the artist and Peter Sedgley in 1967). ↩︎

  5. Riley, “Perception is the Medium,” 130. ↩︎

  6. Riley, “Perception is the Medium,” 130. ↩︎

  7. William C. Seitz, The Responsive Eye (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1965), 31. Cyril Barret, for example, posits that the exploration of color began in the Arrest and Deny series, “though this was mainly concerned with colour in relation to different tonal values of grey.” See Cyril Barrett, Op Art (London: Studio Vista, 1970), 172. ↩︎

  8. Bridget Riley, “Bridget Riley in Conversation with Sir John Leighton,” National Galleries YouTube channel, posted on July 16, 2019, 12:25, https://youtu.be/Af3RgRRAGa4. ↩︎

  9. Bridget Riley, quoted in “Miss Bridget Riley and Optical Art,” Times (April 19, 1965), 4. Riley made this statement shortly after seeing Piet Mondrian’s unfinished painting Victory Boogie Woogie (1944) in the New York apartment of collector Emily Hall Tremaine. ↩︎

  10. For Lawrence Alloway, the shaped canvas (the subject of a 1964 Guggenheim exhibition curated by the British critic) had the potential to free the artist from the “confinement [of]: the edge” because “its non-directional character, with neither east-west nor north-south axes, accounts for its currency.” Using Kenneth Noland’s Diamond paintings (1964–69) as examples, Alloway found this format “highly suited to the ‘disembodied’ color effects of staining.” Alloway gave a talk on The Responsive Eye, which became his essay “Notes on Op Art,” although he does not cite Riley’s work. The exhibition shaped Alloway’s discussion of abstraction in the catalogue for his 1966 exhibition at the Guggenheim, Systemic Painting. See Lawrence Alloway, “Introduction,” in Systemic Painting (New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 1966), 20. Alloway features many of the artists included in The Responsive Eye: Ellsworth Kelly, Tadasuke Kuwayama, Agnes Martin, Kenneth Noland, Larry Poons, Leon Polk Smith, and Frank Stella. Riley was not included. ↩︎

  11. In 2012, Riley painted her shaped color mural, Rajasthan. ↩︎

  12. Bridget Riley, “Statement” (1970), in The Eye’s Mind, 143. ↩︎

  13. Riley, “Statement,” 143. ↩︎

  14. Bridget Riley, quoted in Barrett, Op Art, 171. ↩︎

  15. The full quote reads: “I tend to work with open area space — and when I refer to this as ‘American’ space one must not forget that it had its origins in Mondrian. It demands a shallow push-pull situation and a fluctuating surface.” Bridget Riley, “In Conversation with Maurice de Sausmarez” (1967), in The Eye’s Mind, 62. ↩︎

  16. Rosalind Krauss, “Bridget Riley, Richard Feigen Gallery,” Artforum 4, no. 10 (Summer 1966), 51. ↩︎

  17. Important exceptions that proved fundamental to her practice were the ideas of Harry Thubron, Maurice de Sausmarez, and Victor Pasmore, first encountered by the artist in the exhibition The Developing Process at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London. Riley attended one of Thubron’s summer schools in Suffolk and recalled, “Henry taught us in a way that was absolutely inspired: what sort of mind Klee had, what Mondrian was really doing. . . .  It was an eye opener and terrifically exciting” (quoted in John Whitley, “The Art of Riley,” Daily Telegraph, August 22, 1992, 16). ↩︎

  18. Frank Stella, quoted in Bruce Glaser, “Questions to Stella and Judd,” Art News, September 1966. Stella states this in reference to Groupe de Recherche d’Art Visuel. ↩︎

  19. Donald Judd, quoted in Glaser, “Questions to Stella and Judd.” ↩︎

  20. See Glaser, “Questions to Stella and Judd.” Op art was also criticized at the time for being the “last wing of the Bauhaus” and, therefore, obsolete in the face of new US abstraction (Barbara Rose, “Beyond Vertigo: Optical Art at the Modern,” Artforum 3, no.7 [April 1965]:, 32). ↩︎

  21. Glaser, “Questions to Stella and Judd.” ↩︎

  22. Riley, “In Conversation with Maurice de Sausmarez,” 62. ↩︎

  23. Bridget Riley, quoted in “The Art of the Past with Neil MacGregor,” in Bridget Riley: Dialogues on Art (London: The Bridget Riley Foundation, 2019), 28. ↩︎

  24. Bridget Riley, quoted in John Elderfield, “The Change of Aspect,” in Reconnaissance, ed. Lynne Cooke and John Elderfield (New York: Dia Center for the Arts, 2001), 21. ↩︎

  25. Riley, “The Change of Aspect,” 21. ↩︎

  26. Bridget Riley, “Interview with David Sylvester” (1967), in The Eye’s Mind, 139. ↩︎

  27. Bridget Riley, “A Reputation Revisited: Talking to Andrew Graham-Dixon,” in Dialogues on Art, 72. Often overlooked is that since 1961 Riley has employed assistants to complete her final paintings, indicating the unimportance of the artist’s hand in her practice in favor of a more impersonal, perhaps even democratic, process. ↩︎

  28. Ad Reinhardt and Bridget Riley, Poor Old Tired Horse 18 (1966). ↩︎

  29. Bridget Riley, “In Conversation with Robert Kudielka” (1972), in The Eye’s Mind, 147. ↩︎

  30. See Riley, “Perception is the Medium,” 129–30. ↩︎

  31. Riley, “Perception is the Medium,” 129–30. ↩︎

  32. Bridget Riley, “Into Colour,” in The Eye’s Mind, 156. ↩︎

  33. Bridget Riley, “Things to Enjoy: Talking to Bryan Robertson,” in Dialogues on Art, 93. ↩︎

  34. Bridget Riley, “Working with Nature” (1977), in The Eye’s Mind, 67. ↩︎

  35. Barbara Rose, American Art Since 1900: A Critical History (New York: F. A. Praeger, 1967), 233. ↩︎

  36. Riley, “Perception is the Medium,” 129. ↩︎

  37. Alloway, “Introduction,” 22. ↩︎

  38. Riley continues: “That is the first step, and through building a coherent spatial order various and diverse sensations emerge. I try to sort these out and assign them rightful places. . . .  If this placing goes well the actual sensation becomes part of the formative fabric of the painting.” Bridget Riley, “Something to Look At: In Conversation with Alex Farquan” (1995), in The Eye’s Mind, 206. ↩︎

  39. For more information, see Frances Follin, “Un-American Activities: The Reception of Riley’s Work in America,” in Embodied Visions: Bridget Riley, Op Art and the Sixties (London: Thames and Hudson, 2004), 123–42. ↩︎

  40. Robert Melville, “Abstract Illusionism,” New Statesman, October 16, 1964, 588. Alloway argued against a Greenbergian formalist criticism championing art’s material autonomy, so common among US critics and their analyses of the abstract, particularly as related to Op art, which he felt lacked “the iconographical and experiential aspects . . . which can no longer be dismissed as ‘literary’ except on the basis of an archaic estheticism.” See Alloway, “Introduction,” 22. ↩︎

  41. David Thompson, “International Recognition for British Painting,” Times, December 31, 1963. ↩︎

  42. Riley, “The Experience of Painting,” 200. ↩︎

  43. Riley, “The Experience of Painting,” 200. ↩︎

  44. Bridget Riley, quoted in Richard Shiff, “The Unaccountable,” in Bridget Riley: The Stripe Paintings, 1961–2014 (London: David Zwirner Gallery, 2014), 34. ↩︎

  45. Bridget Riley, quoted in “Perception and the Use of Color: With E. H. Gombrich,” in Dialogues on Art, 50–51. ↩︎

  46. Riley, “Perception and the Use of Color,” 50–51. ↩︎

  47. Riley explained that “it is very important that each form finally relinquishes its separateness as a whole. It must be fully absorbed. So while it is necessary in the early stages to analyze each unit, my aim is to enable it to release sufficient energy to precipitate its dissolution in totality.” Bridget Riley, “In Conversation” (1972), in The Eye’s Mind, 147. ↩︎

  48. See Riley, “Bridget Riley in Conversation with Sir John Leighton.” ↩︎

  49. See Riley, “Into Colour,” 160. ↩︎

  50. See Riley, “Bridget Riley in Conversation with Sir John Leighton.” ↩︎

  51. Bridget Riley, “Practising Abstraction: Bridget Riley with Michael Craig-Martin,” in Dialogues on Art, 64. ↩︎

  52. Bridget Riley, quoted in John Whitley, “The Art of Riley,” Daily Telegraph, August 22, 1992, 16. ↩︎

  53. See Robert Kudielka, “The Colour Connection,” in The Artist’s Eye (London: National Gallery, 1989), 7. ↩︎

  54. See Bridget Riley, “About Curves: Bridget Riley in Conversation with Paul Moorhouse,” in The Curve Paintings: 1961–2014 (London: Ridinghouse, 2015), 51. ↩︎