L13022

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Lot 12
  • 12

Bridget Riley

Estimate
1,000,000 - 1,500,000 GBP
Sold
1,594,500 GBP
bidding is closed

Description

  • Bridget Riley
  • Stretch
  • signed and dated '64 on the overturn edge; titled, variously inscribed and dated 1964 on the reverse
  • acrylic emulsion on panel
  • 35 x 35 inches

Provenance

Sidney Janis Gallery, New York
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner

Exhibited

Los Angeles, Feigen-Palmer Gallery, Rule Britannia, 1964
New York, Richard L. Feigen, Bridget Riley, 1965
Los Angeles, Feigen-Palmer Gallery, Bridget Riley, 1965
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, The Responsive Eye, 1965
Ridgefield, Connecticut, Larry Aldrich Museum, Highlights of the 1964-65 Art Season, 1965
Ohio, Galleries of Cleveland Institute of Art, Contemporary British Art, 1976, no. 70

Catalogue Note

An astounding example of Bridget Riley’s 1960s oeuvre that highlights her status as a pioneer of Op Art, Stretch is undoubtedly one of the most important early works by the artist ever to have been presented at auction. The significance of Stretch was recognised very early on by its inclusion within the landmark exhibition, The Responsive Eye, at The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the major celebration of Op Art organised by William Seitz that took place in 1965. The exhibition garnered Riley widespread acclaim on an international level and launched her definitively within public awareness. The striking black and white palette of Stretch is a defining hallmark of Riley’s earliest paintings: colour tones did not begin to appear in her work until 1967. The absence of chromatic hues within Stretch and other major works of the period, such as Movement in Squares of 1961 (Arts Council Collection, Hayward Gallery, London) and Current of 1964 (The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Philip Johnson Fund) enables the purity of geometric form to be displayed to magnificent effect, whilst reinforcing the powerful dynamism of the composition. Writing in 1965, Riley outlined the particular impressions she was aiming for within her painting: “The basis of my paintings is this: that in each of them a particular situation is stated. Certain elements within that situation remain constant, others precipitate the destruction of themselves by themselves. Recurrently, as a result of the cyclic movement of repose, disturbance and repose, the original situation is restored” (the artist, cited in Exhibition Catalogue, London, Tate, Bridget Riley, 2003, p. 15). This sense of instability imbues Stretch with an extraordinary energy, seeming to pulsate with an ever-changing whirl of black and white elements that remain caught in a self-perpetuating loop of annihilation and creation. Stretch is remarkable also for its distinctive format: shaped canvases are a rarity within Riley’s oeuvre. Projecting out from the wall with an almost sculptural force, the curved sides of Stretch further intensify the effect of strobing movement.

Within Stretch a vortex of black and white lines seems to twist and warp in an endlessly rotating columnar force, whilst diagonals appear to alternately oppose and complement one another in an exhaustive dance. The overall effect is one of inexorable rotation and circulation, as though the sharply depicted lines of black are struggling to escape the confines of the compositional edge. Stretch projects an astonishing sensation of constant movement: unpredictable and fascinating, lines appear to zig-zag wildly across the canvas, demanding an intimate, yet utterly personal, form of engagement on the part of the onlooker. Riley encourages a profound, fundamental shift in the very nature of sight and seeing itself, causing the eye to glimpse extraordinary outlines and shapes seemingly concealed within the wavering black lines. With reference to the concept of perception in Riley’s work, Paul Moorhouse argues that: “Riley’s early paintings radically reversed the traditional relationship between the work of art and the viewer… The process of looking ‘activates’ the painting. Its formal structure is catalysed and destabilised by the viewer’s gaze. As the mind struggles to interpret the sensory information with which it is presented, it veers from one visual hypothesis to another, vainly trying to fix the image. This state of flux generates vivid perceptual experiences of movement and light, which are the defining characteristics of Riley’s early work” (Paul Moorhouse, ‘“The Ultimate secret of things,” Perception and sensation in Bridget Riley’s art,’ in: Exhibition Catalogue, Sydney, Museum of Contemporary Art, Bridget Riley, Paintings and drawings 1961-2004, 2004, p. 15). The opposing diagonals are reminiscent in form of waves or ripples within water, reflecting the influence of nature and landscape that was of paramount importance to the artist’s creative development. Riley had spent her childhood living near the sea in Cornwall, and the memory of light playing atop the surface of the Atlantic Ocean exerted a lasting impact on her work. Indeed, light seems to radiate out of Stretch, created through the compression of the controlling linear components and the clash of the diagonal elements that dominate the composition. The result is a painting that seems to shimmer and ripple, creating a work of truly stunning complexity and multifaceted intricacy.

Stretch was painted during a period of intense creativity for Riley, during a time in which her work was garnering increasing national and international acclaim. Riley’s first solo exhibitions had taken place in 1962 and 1963 at Victor Musgrave’s Gallery One in London, followed by participation in group shows at Tooths Gallery and the Walker Art Gallery. In 1964, Riley’s paintings were displayed at several exhibitions which focussed on upcoming and emerging artists: participation in the Arts Council of Great Britain’s Six Young Artists, Whitechapel Art Gallery’s The New Generation and even the Young Artists Biennale in Tokyo indicated that Riley’s art appeared to resonate perfectly with the cultural zeitgeist of the time. The early 1960s was a time of cultural and social liberation as the younger generation engineered a form of reaction against the strictures and conventions of the 1950s, a decade that had still been dominated by post-war austerity. Riley’s electric, innovative style of painting seemed to reflect the atmosphere of emancipation and experimentation that welcomed new rock bands alongside daringly short hemlines in fashion and the corresponding relaxation of previously rigid social mores. Frances Follin commented on Riley’s role in this ‘revolution of youth’: “As an Op artist, Riley was part of ‘new Britain’ along with the Beatles, Mary Quant and David Frost, her art aligned with the urban, scientific, socially progressive face of a new, young national identity” (Frances Follin, Embodied Visions: Bridget Riley, Op Art and the Sixties, London 2004, p. 120). In its celebration of an entirely innovative form of abstraction, Stretch brilliantly epitomises the energy and dynamism of so-called ‘Swinging London.’ Ultimately, Stretch is a true masterpiece of the artist’s early painting: a superb work that eloquently fulfils one of Riley’s central creative statements: “I want [people] to feel as I do, or can sometimes, to have this particular joy… My aim is to make people feel alive” (the artist cited in: Op. cit., Tate Britain, Bridget Riley, p. 81).
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