Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Day Auction


Bridget Riley
signed and dated '91 on the overturn edge; signed, titled and dated 1991 on the overlap; signed, titled and dated 1991 on the stretcher
oil on linen
165 by 227.5cm.; 65 by 89 3/8 in.
Read Condition Report Read Condition Report


PaceWildenstein, New York
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner


Nuremberg, Kunsthalle Nuremberg; Quadrat Bottrop, Josef Albers Museum; London, Hayward Gallery; Birmingham, Ikon Gallery, Bridget Riley: Paintings 1982-1992, 1992-93, p. 55, illustrated in colour
New York, PaceWildenstein, Bridget Riley: Paintings 1982 - 2000 and Early Works on Paper, 2000
New York, PaceWildenstein, Bridget Riley: Recent Paintings, 2004, p. 9, illustrated in colour

Catalogue Note

Dark Light summates over thirty years of Bridget Riley's dedicated engagement to the language of painting and the possibilities of colour. Deceptively composed from a schema of vertical stripes, the interspersion of multi-coloured truncated diagonals contained within the width of each strip imparts a visual staccato that causes the eye to ceaselessly hover over a glorious chromatic field. Belonging to the series of diagonally characterised Lozenge Paintings initiated in 1986, the present work signifies a dramatic change in artistic direction. Following the series of vertiginous striped works known as the Egyptian Paintings, the ensuing Lozenge works inverted the effect of Riley’s previous output. Rather than stimulating optical effects upon the spectator, with these works Riley looked to imitate our visual experience of nature itself. Indeed, dominated by a field of dusk-blue tones and kaleidoscopically punctuated with red, yellow and emerald green, Dark Light magnificently defies the strict geometry of its composition to deliver an immersive experience akin to the twilight hour at which nature’s colours are freed from the dominion of the sun.

In response to this change of direction, which has informed the entirety of her later production, Riley explains: "colours are organised on the canvas so that 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… one moment there will be nothing to look at and the next second the canvas suddenly seems to refill, to be crowded with visual events” (Bridget Riley, 'The Pleasures of Sight (1984)' in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Tate Britain, Bridget Riley, 2003, p. 213). As in the present work, we are immersed in the nuanced and undulating colour juxtapositions that mediate chromatic passages of differing intensities. One detects echoes, repetitions and inversions. However, any search for cogent patternation is utterly thwarted and our sight is disarmed by sheer immersive splendour. Unable to settle, our vision constantly traverses the latticed geometry of Riley's composition to impart an unstable viewing encounter.

This radical departure and inversion of effect in Riley’s work can be directly linked to a renewed interest in her earliest artistic beginnings. During the very onset of her professional career Riley had studied closely the sophisticated colourist methods of Georges Seurat alongside the scrutiny of appearance versus perception articulated in the work of Paul Cézanne and Claude Monet. As a young artist, Riley made a number of studies in the Neo-Impressionist style and it was out of a clear understanding of the pioneering masters of Classical Modernism that her progression into pure optical abstraction was facilitated. In returning to her earliest preoccupation with colour and an experience of nature outside of ordered representation, Riley tackles the question laid down on the cusp of Modernity at the Fin de Siècle: how do we negotiate the disparity between the way our eye sees things and the actuality of appearance? In contrast to her previous series which looked to impact optical effects on the spectator, these works sought to emulate more closely the effect of external stimulus on the eye, to replicate the experience of seeing and absorbing the ever-changing perception of the physical world. Nonetheless, the reality of appearance is not the central inspiration or point of departure here; rather, these paintings originate from a will to weave a relationship with nature from within the language of abstraction itself. Speaking in 1992, Robert Kudielka described how this very notion was crystallised in the preparatory stages for  the present work: “When she had completed the full-size cartoon for Dark Light last winter she remarked: ‘Isn’t it curious that nature immediately looks so much better once I’ve got a painting together?’ That is roughly how the balance between the making of abstract art and nature should be seen” (Robert Kudielka quoting the artist in: Robert Kudielka on Bridget Riley: Essays and Interviews 1972-2003, London 2005, p. 134).

Contemporary Art Day Auction