Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the 5–19 May, 1962 issue of Arts Review (as ArtReview was then called). A retrospective of Bridget Riley’s work is on view at the Hayward Gallery, London, through 26 January 2020
This first one-man show establishes its creator as being in the vanguard of a branch of research in contemporary art which is a world-wide concern at the moment: the integration of optical, scientific effects into the language of painting. The natural experimentalism of art which seeks to bring new fields of fact within the orbit of art and aesthetics, perhaps also the development of expressionism from a social protest to a personal search for power, and perhaps also the envy of painters for the forceful, precise effects of commercial graphic design (which has no doubt skimmed much of the talent of pure painting and diverted it into power research), have contributed to this branch of painting, which is essentially a meeting between mechanical law and artistic freedom.
Bridget Riley has made many interesting investigations here; sometimes she used a grid of black and white, like Vasarely, of which the alternations of fact and emptiness can be shifted to produce illusionary stresses and strains and lines of direction; sometimes she takes a mechanical pattern, like a solitaire board, and alters it with fetching effect. All the works are optically dynamic and by their play between reality of paint, illusion in the eye and reality of idea in the mind, force attention both to the surface and to the idea. One painting is a tour de force, even if it is not the most fruitful artistically: a herringbone pattern, it pleats on the curve, it jumps to life as one watches it, moving in opposing directions, like escalators changing its colours (black and white) to pink and cream, and even to alternate stripes of brown and blue; vibrating all the time. It illustrates the eye’s natural, lazy and mechanical urge to fit a pattern into an easy, known shape, and continually defies this. Altogether this is a lively, fascinating exhibition both visually and mentally, for it stimulates the lazy eye to a sharper attention both to art and to reality. As in the best research, behind its intellectual analysis lies the observation of reality, and behind this observation lies a lively interest in the world of phenomena; but it is also artistic, asserting freedom and enjoyment.
This article first appeared in Arts Review, 5–19 May, 1962