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Details & Cataloguing

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Bridget Riley
B.1931
THE IVY PAINTING
signed and dated '98 on the lower right side; also signed, dated 1998 and inscribed on the canvas overlap; further signed, dated 1998, titled and inscribed on the stretcher bar
oil on linen
114 by 72.5cm.; 44¾ by 28½in.
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Provenienza(e)

Commissioned for The Ivy Restaurant, 1998

Nota a catalogo

Riley’s breakthrough black and white paintings of the early 1960s create an intense optical experience which revolves around the dissolution of the surface of the painting, to the point that it appears to exist in a space somewhere between the viewer and the canvas. These paintings seem to point you away from the surface, to light. She began to introduce colour into her work in the late 1960s and her paintings became more about syncopations of colour and hue that repeat, vary, then return. Initially she was restricted to two or three colours, arranged in vertical stripes – one resonating against the other in a long, sustained note. However, as Riley has always worked empirically – rather than to any mathematical system – it didn’t take long for her to push the boundaries of her vocabulary, through increasing the number of colours and their various densities. The growing complexity of her colour arrangements required a fundamental change in form. In 1987 Riley adopted a new compositional format by dividing the surface of her paintings vertically and diagonally, to create a geometric multiplicity of ‘zigs’ (as they are known as in her studio). To more fully explore the spatial advances and recessions afforded by her chosen hues and the new crystalline shapes enabled her to dramatically shatter the picture plane into a myriad of variegated hues. She said, 'Eventually I found what I was looking for in the conjunction of the vertical and diagonal...This conjunction was the new form. It could be seen as a patch of colour - acting almost like a brush mark. When enlarged, these formal patches became coloured planes that could take up different positions in space' (The Artist, quoted in Bridget Riley Flashback, Hayward Gallery, London, 2009, p.18).

The ‘zig’ paintings occupied Riley throughout the late 80s and 90s and resulted in a series of paintings with sharply articulated lines, a multitude of densities and unstable areas of refracting light. The complexity of the colour relationships in these works is formidable. Some of the colours exist in as many as twenty different shades in a single painting. A principal difficulty of this kind of composition is that of creating a unified and balanced field of visual sensation, which, at the same time, is organised dynamically in terms of individual colours. The position of each of these elements is carefully judged in terms of correspondence, contrast and proportion. This creates what Riley, who is herself a wonderful and profound writer on colour and perception, describes as the ‘repetition, contrast, calculated reversal and counterpoint’ that ‘parallels the basis of our emotional structure’ (The Artist, 'Perception is the Medium' (1965), reprinted in Robert Kudielka (ed.), The Eye's Mind - Bridget Riley, Collected Writings 1965-1999, Thames and Hudson, London,1999, p.66).

The Ivy painting demonstrates Riley's success in relating similar and contrasting colours in a way that sustains a saturated intensity of colour across the entire picture plane. It is executed on a smaller scale than most in the ‘zig’ paintings. In fact, Riley may have purposefully made it this size with its position in the restaurant in mind. It hung above table 32, on the ground floor. Its composition seems to mirror the diamond-shaped lattice and brilliant colour of the restaurant’s iconic stained glass windows, which flanked either side of the panelled wall on which the painting hung. The present picture must be one of Riley’s last ‘zig’ paintings, as towards the end of the 1990s she began to soften and curve the sharp angles. The forms become larger.  Extreme close-ups of the winding helices of the 1960s ‘wave’ works are now refracted though a counterpoint vertical geometry, the same underlying grid of verticals and diagonals that Riley has always used to construct her work now brought to the surface.

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