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Bridget Riley: a major retrospective
01 September 2003


The Tate Britain is showing a major retrospective of Bridget Riley's work until September 28th 2003.

Bridget Riley is one of Britain's most respected artists and one of the few contemporary painters with a truly international reputation. Her distinguished and singular career encompasses forty years of uncompromising and remarkable innovation. Riley first attracted critical attention with the dazzling black and white paintings which she began to make in 1961. These works became celebrated for their disturbing and disorientating optical effects, yet undeniable and surprising beauty.

Her participation in the seminal exhibition The Responsive Eye at The Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1965 established her as an artist of the first rank. This position was confirmed at the Venice Biennale in 1968 when she became the first British contemporary painter and the first woman to win the International Prize for painting.

Since then Riley has remained at the forefront of developments in contemporary painting, making highly distinctive works which are abstract and non-descriptive, but which offer visual experiences closely related to those found in nature. She commented: 'the eye can travel over the surface in a way parallel to the way it moves over nature. It should feel caressed and soothed, experience frictions and ruptures, glide and drift. Vision can be arrested, tripped up or pulled back in order to float free again. It encounters reflections, echoes and fugitive flickers which when traced evaporate. One moment there will be nothing to look at and the next second the canvas seems to refill, to be crowded with visual events.'

While celebrated for her black and white paintings of the early 1960s, Riley has continued to advance her art. At the heart of this development has been her investigation of the role of colour. Since late 1967, when her first colour stripe paintings appeared, Riley has sought to articulate an abstract language in which relations of colour and form generate a range of visual sensations. The impression of light in all its chromatic variety and intensity, and a sense of subtle and sometimes vibrant movement, are among the complex perceptions yielded by her paintings. By turns lyrical, powerful and serene, her work is underpinned by her adherence to the French nineteenth-century master Eugène Delacroix's observation: 'the first duty of a painting is to be a feast for the eye'.

Having recently turned seventy, Riley occupies an unusual position within the field of contemporary art – a senior artist whose work, with each new development, generates fresh interest. Her recent wall-drawings, for example, eschew paint and colour, weaving intricate compositions entirely using line. Respected both by her peers and by a younger generation of artists and students, she is admired for her dedication to certain artistic ideals and also as an incisive communicator about her own work.

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