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Bridget Riley: The Curve Paintings 1961 – 2014
De La Warr Pavilion, June 13 to September 16, 2015
Review by Judith Duquemin
©Copyright Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hancock All rights reserved.
Memorable about visiting the exhibition: “Bridget Riley: The Curve Paintings 1961 – 2014”, at the De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill on Sea, was its venue and location, as the theme and composition of the exhibition were complemented by the streamlined Art Deco architecture of the pavilion and its close proximity to the sea.
De la Warr Pavilion. Photo by Judith Duquemin
I was fortunate to have viewed this exhibition on a temperate, sunny, cloudless, summer’s day, in full view of the sea and the adjacent coastline. The occasion amounted to a visual feast of natural and constructed curvilinear colour and light sensations, in and beyond the gallery. Reminiscent of Riley’s childhood experiences of growing up in the natural beauty of the Cornish countryside, I imagine this is how she would like it.
Rajasthan © 2015 Bridget Riley. All rights reserved, courtesy Karsten Schubert, London Photo: Nigel Green
In an interview with Robert Kudielka, Riley justified her use of the curve by saying:
“…one cannot tackle the instability and infinite variety of colour relationships
without relying on some sort of formal backbone…in the mid-
The curve is adopted as a device to explore colour through painting. Riley was not
the only artist addressing the curve in the 1970s. The American artist Ellsworth
Kelly had produced a series of arcs, for example White Curve (1974), and Curve XXI
(1978). Riley and Kelly shared an interest in manipulating colour and shape, using
basic geometry to explore visual relationships between figure and ground, with each
resorting to scaled drawings and paper models in the lead-
The intention driving Riley’s work is her interest in the subject of visual perception.
In her early, highly informative writings, she said: “The desire to be a painter
may spring from any or several sources. One might be stirred by other paintings…or
one may be prompted by a wish for self-
Visual perception is the way we think about or understand someone or something, using our sense of vision.
The visual complexity characteristic of Riley’s paintings is the result of many hours dedicated to studio research. The examples of visual experiments, housed together in one section of the gallery, made viewing the paintings much more meaningful. For this reason the exhibition was as much about demonstrating process over time, as it was about producing visual outcomes. As an antipodean artist accustomed to viewing artworks by international artists as reproduced images, the ground studies were, in my opinion, a highlight of the exhibition.
Riley explains the importance of creating ground studies in the overall realization
of a work. She says: “I have to build up a bank of visual information first -
From the optimistic, optical works of the 1960s to the enlivening, wavy, linear compositions of the 70s and 80s, and more recently the curvilinear works that employ shapes which have become visually unhinged from their substructure, the curatorial team at the De la Warr Pavilion have managed to force the viewer to abandon all reliance on popularised interpretations of Bridget Riley’s work.
Judith Duquemin 2015.
Red with Red 1/Rêve © 2015 Bridget Riley. All rights reserved, courtesy Karsten Schubert, London Photo: Nigel Green
Works on Paper © 2015 Bridget Riley. All rights reserved, courtesy Karsten Schubert, London Photo: Nigel Green
The exhibition surveyed a period of Riley’s painting practice built around the motif
of the curve, one of many motifs explored by her throughout her career. It featured
significant works such as: Study for ‘Kiss’ (1961) an early square, flat, minimalist,
gouache on paper work; Rêve (1999), an oil on linen painting which marked the beginning
of the series of curvilinear works; the blue, pink and green paintings of the 1970s
and 1980s; and a favourite entitled Rajasthan (2012), a large-
Rêve © 1999 Bridget Riley. All rights reserved, courtesy Karsten Schubert, London
Cataract 2 © 1967 Bridget Riley. All rights reserved, courtesy Karsten Schubert, London