Thursday, 3 November 2011

Keeping an Open Mind

There is currently an exhibition of Bridget Riley's work at Kettle's Yard in Cambridge.
I was aware of Bridget's op-art work in black and white from the sixties, which having a mathematical background I found quite fascinating.

Movement in Squares, 1961

The paintings in Kettle's Yard are selected from the past thirty years up to very recent work and are big and colourful. I saw the exhibition when it opened but if I'm honest, I didn't understand it and felt somewhat indifferent which annoyed me. Here I was standing in front of what was generally acclaimed to be great art and I didn't "get it". So when an opportunity arose to attend an evening talk with Bridget Riley in conversation with Paul Moorhouse, art curator at the National Portrait gallery, it seemed too good to miss.

Loss, 1964

Last night I went to St. John's College, Cambridge and listened to this amazingly vivacious 80 year old talk about her work... and I'm so pleased that I did.

Nude, 1951/52

She spoke about her childhood in Cornwall and the love of nature instilled in her by her mother. About how her mother would make her really look at the colour, shape and movement of everything around her. She spoke about her early days in art school and the strong grounding she had in life drawing and how the tonal drawings she would make then went on to inform those early black and white paintings.

Reve, 1999

Another strong influence on her colour paintings was the work of Seurat. A study of Cezanne gave her a desire to dig deeper and explore colour and pictorial space further.  Her work is filled with movement and rhythm.

Two Reds, 2000

And armed with this greater understanding of how Bridget Riley works, knowing where her influences have come from, I find I have a greater appreciation. Aesthetically they might not be my first choice of paintings to look at but I now feel I can take something away from the experience of looking at them... and so I intend to go back to the exhibition in Kettles Yard, which has been extended to the end of December and take a closer look.

Rose Rose 5, 2009

As I work through my MA over the next couple of years I think I might be doing a lot more looking and appreciating of things I didn't understand before.


  1. I went to a Bridget Riley exhibition at Tate Britain in 2003 and the large scale paintings in the huge galleries made a big impression on me - I think they have more connection with graphic arts than fine art. I bought loads of postcards and they are still on my studio wall.
    I love geometry and colour and repeat pattern; I look at them and think 'it would be so soothing to paint that', like listening to a Mozart composition.

    I'm going to be at Kettles Yard on Saturday for a printmaking workshop, so I've been saving the BR exhibition to 'do' on the same afternoon.

    Hearing Bridget Riley talk about her work must have been fascinating.


  2. How wonderful that you heard her talk about her work in person. I'm so keen to go and see this exhibition (I'd forgotten all about it). Thankyou so much for the reminder, Gina. I've had postcards of her work since I was a student and, like Celia, I have a couple on my studio wall. I love the colourful ones you've included too. I can see how they're linked with Seurat and pointilism.

  3. thanks for the heads up on this exhibition. I will have to try and get down there.

  4. A wonderful opportunity to hear from the artist herself how her works came about. Her work was brought to my notice by my C&G tutor nearly 30 years ago. At that time I suffered from migraines and couldn't look at her black and white paintings! I much prefer her coloured works and love the rhythms in them.

  5. In my ignorance I hadn't heard of Bridget Riley but it must have been fascinating to hear her talk about her work.

  6. Thanks for reporting on the talk. I left it too late to book, all the tickets had gone.

    I saw the exhibition last Friday and was really frustrated that I couldn't pick some of the paintings up and move them round to be able to compare them better, particularly the ones with vertical strips. (I realise that this is a most unrealistic wish on my part!)

    Hope you enjoy your second viewing. (And whilst you're in Cambridge, thinking of your paper cutting, have you managed to see the Rob Ryan/Angie lewin exhibition at CCA yet?)

  7. interesting post. always am fascinated by those optical illusions.

  8. Oh I envy you the chance to go to that talk. The most special thing...that you described her as vivacious. What a fabulous compliment. Vivacious suggests full of life, just like her work.

  9. Wish I'd known about the talk! Her work reminds me of some of my work in the 60's at college, but of course she became famous and I started teaching!!!


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