[Our vision] 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.
Executed in 1987, Into Place illuminates Bridget Riley’s influential investigations into the optical potential of colour and form. The painting reflects one of the most radical developments within Riley’s precise and graphic visual dialect; the discovery of the diagonal in 1986. Moving away from her previous works featuring vertical or horizontal coloured lines, Riley’s embrace of the diagonal liberated her from the rigidity and exactitude of the straight line, encouraging her to create paintings of heightened dynamism and vigour. Riley explains: “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 cited in Exh. Cat. Bridget Riley Flashback, Hayward Gallery, London, 2009, p. 18). Created in the second year of such a ground breaking development, Into Place features elegantly cascading parallelograms or ‘lozenges’ that insistently shift our vision, its shattered picture plane urging and accelerating the sense of tension, rivalry and harmony between the gradated tonalities. The title Into Place aptly and poetically captures how each of the lozenges interact, unite, and ultimately fall ‘into place’, aligning into a composition of graceful complexity.
Created in the latter half of the 1980s, in the aftermath of Riley’s travels to Egypt at the turn of the decade, Into Place embodies yet another breakthrough in Riley’s career. In the winter of 1979-1980 Riley travelled to Egypt, where she studied first-hand the tombs of the Pharaohs in the Valley of the Kings. Inspired by the art which adorned ancient burial sites, Riley was especially drawn to the symbolic use of six hues – red, blue, yellow, green, black and white – which represented aspects of Egyptian life. In the years following her travels, Riley harnessed her own range of intense hues – her own ‘Egyptian palette’ – within varying formal arrangements, engendering a dialogue between the structure of her geometrical frameworks and the notion of weight, density, brilliance and opacity. Constructive rather than descriptive, Riley's use of colour exploits its inherent instability, allowing her the freedom to create the visual interactions which would go on to dominate her ouevre.
It is between the dialectical fray of composition and perception that Riley situates her work. As a student, Riley made studies from the works of Georges Seurat, who was influenced by the empiricism of Charles Henry and his theory that mathematical formulation could directly explain aesthetic results. Rejecting Seurat’s pointillist technique, she instead concentrated on the artist's systematic distillation of colour and his balanced use of complementary hues to delineate light, shade, depth and form. Into Place includes echoes of this early exploration of colour, whilst also incorporating the vigorous structural emphasis of her early black and white geometric paintings. Inspired by the ‘all-over’ canvases of Abstract Expressionists like Jackson Pollock, Riley refined their multi-focal vernacular into her own unique artistic language. This is consummately embodied in the pulsating parallelograms and geometrical dynamism of the present work, as Riley combines the logic of early colour theory with a painterly engagement with the surface of the canvas, resulting in a visual sensation that oscillates between the ‘plastic’ neutrality of the repeated form and the optical brilliance of her palette.
Encountered at a typical viewing distance, Into Place engulfs our field of vision while the immaculate and measured configuration of lozenges provides a deeply satisfying sense of geometric order. We are immersed in the nuanced and undulating colour juxtapositions that mediate chromatic passages of differing intensities: “from density and weight to dullness and brilliance and tranquillity; from closed impenetrability to open airy space, from advancing planes to shallow recessions” (Ibid, p. 22). One detects echoes, repetitions and inversions; however, any search for cogent patternation is utterly thwarted. Rather, our sight and cognition are disarmed and abandoned for sheer immersive splendour. The eye is unable to settle, our vision is constantly moving to traverse the chromatic geometry of Riley's composition; an unstable viewing experience that mirrors our optical cognition of nature’s physical arena. Riley describes this complex methodology and its visual allusion to the natural world as thus: “I do not select single colours but rather pairs, triads or groups of colour which taken together act as generators of what can be seen through or via the painting. By which I mean that the 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” (Bridget Riley, “The Pleasures of Sight”, Exh. Cat. London, Tate Britain, Bridget Riley, 2003, p. 213).