Through The Looking Glass with Bridget Riley at The National Gallery

This week sees the launch of BRIDGET RILEY, PAINTINGS AND RELATED WORK, as the National Gallery’s Sunley Room plays canvas to the life and work of one of Britain’s most influential abstract artists.

Displaying her selected paintings from 1946 to today the exhibition borders Riley’s conceptual pieces with the works of Raphael, Andrea Mantegna and Georges Seurat, requested by the artist herself, these masters are perhaps more at home in the National than Riley would first appear to be.

But much like Riley’s art, which requires you to look again to really see it, you’ll find on closer inspection that the onetime copyist of such greats and dear trustee of the gallery is more at home here amongst the works that inspire her with their rhythm, movement and balance of colour than anywhere else she could be.

Red With Red 1, 2007, Bridget Riley

For Riley’s part, her exhibition consists of eleven pieces, that as she approaches her 80th birthday explore the lines, colour, volume and mass that characterise her art which literally appears to move off the wall and hypnotise the eye.

Arrest 3, 1965, Bridget Riley

PAINTINGS AND RELATED WORK, unveils ‘Composition with Circles 7’, made directly onto the wall of the Sunley Room (along with a version of her wall painting ‘Arcadia’), these works become art in residence at the gallery. Arcadia knows no bounds as it sprawls across it’s blank wall, making the wall part of the perfectly balanced composition whose curved lines take on volume while remaining one-dimensional.

Arcadia 1 (Wall Painting 1), 2007, Bridget Riley

Circles 7 was composed on a small scale with a pair of compasses. Over 120 circles now feature as one connected piece spanning the entire opposite wall of the room, which every time you look at it shows a new angle or hidden space amongst the crescents and curves.

Essentially, this is what Riley is inviting us to do, to look. The bench that sits in the room was a request specifically by Bridget for the ‘unknown audience’ that will come to view her work as she invites us to draw our own conclusions, make our own connections and find our own balances within her work.

So which piece is it in which she finds what she’s looking for? ‘Compositions with Circles 7,…it’s the 7th of the circle drawings I’ve done…It’s almost like one painting I keep finding new aspects of, opportunities to carry this painting further.’

a piece of Comosition with Circles 7

BRIDGET RILEY, PAINTINGS AND RELATED WORK, sponsored by Bloomberg, who work closely to support such exhibits at the National Gallery, is open to the public this week and will be on display in the Sunley Room until 22nd of May 2011.

As this unknown audience come to view an exhibition that celebrates and plots the stages of an artist who captures your imagination with vivid colours, twisting and turning with clear lines and thought out chaos, what is it she is hoping we will find? ‘I hope the viewer will start to look…to experience looking.’

So explore your National Gallery and once you’ve surveyed your favourite masters fall down the rabbit hole into the world of Bridget Riley and where it might lead.

It’s well worth a look.

Text and Images: MARISSA BAXTER