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Bridget Riley

Modern One: Until 16th April 2017

Bridget Riley is widely lauded as the most influential British artist of the 20th century. She is well known for her mind-bending geometric paintings that capture all the disconcerting sensations of vertigo or a powerful LSD trip. The most famous of Riley’s work was created in the so-called Swinging Sixties after all. However, much like the patterns that shimmer and pulse on canvas, there seems to be a lot more going on under the surface.

Riley did not subscribe to the visual revolution taking place during the Sixties; she completely informed it. In this exhibition her paintings pulse from all angles; geometric explorations that twist and distort as one looks upon them. They are more than just the painterly expression of a society in the throes of a decade that saw every type of revolution, whether it be political, sexual, or visual.

It is in a tradition of painterly craft where Riley’s power lies. Her work has a truly universal effect. You do not need an art degree to understand her work’s power. You just need a pair of eyes. She reaches out to her audience like no other artist of the 20th century could; for all the agonising calculative patterns that make up her work, it is the viewer who completes the visual process when they stand in front of one of her paintings. Do you feel seasick? Good, that is supposed to happen.

By no means a retrospective, the collection of Bridget Riley’s work now being held at Modern One nonetheless offers an interesting insight into Bridget Riley’s career path. From the black and white shimmer of ‘Burn’ (1964) to the exploration of colour in ‘Vespertino’ (1988), the curators of this exhibition have chosen not to plot her path chronologically, but haphazardly. This helps to illustrate the ways in which Riley has explored her abiding formal and conceptual style throughout the decades of the 20th century. The collection is wrapped up nicely with more recent painting, which sees a return to the black and white geometry with even greater gusto.

Riley’s work may on the surface be a chain in the link of technological progress that defined the era, but step back from that, and what you see is that Riley is not conforming to the colours and style of her era. She adopts it in order to break it down. The physical discomfort is not created by machinery or television screens, but by the human hand, and her work is all the more powerful for it.

Image Credit: Bridget Riley

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