Monday, 30 November -0001

Ahead of the curve

With the open sea as an immediate backdrop, these abstract, poetic works in movement and colour come alive

Written by Sam Taylor
Sam-Taylor-colour-176The 1930s gave us, among other things, the De La Warr Pavilion and the artist Bridget Riley. Both have stood the test of time – although as far as I know, Riley has not felt the need to undergo the major facelift that the pavilion recently splashed out on. The decision by all parties to host an exhibition focusing on her curve paintings and works on paper in this light-filled, fluid architectural masterpiece is inspired.

Most people will associate Riley with the op art, black and white, eye-popping optical paintings of the 1960s, and it is true that these remain her signature pieces, with some choice pieces hanging in the Works On Paper section: Untitled (Right Angle Curve), 1966, for instance. In the parlance of old-fashioned school teachers, these pieces show her ‘working out’.

Successful studies lead to a full-sized paper works, which in turn would become oils or later, acrylics. Each line is painted by hand; no masking tape is used to avoid mistakes – mistakes simply don’t happen. Or if they do, the piece is abandoned. In a computerised age, life could be so much easier, she could ‘progress’ to the modern world, like Hockney for instance, but she sticks it out in the studio.

Since the 1960s, Riley has worked with a team of assistants, partly because of the scale of her work and because of the need for such exacting precision. Each work can take upwards of nine months to complete from conception and she still insists on mixing all the paints by hand, getting her dirty in the mixing bowl – the Mary Berry of paint techniques. From the 1970s she introduced colour, although again, they were controlled to two or three well-thought-out hues. Song Of Orpheus 3 (1978), for instance, is like a rush through a psychedelic garden in full bloom.

But she avoided straying off into the vast colour fields of her contemporaries, sticking firmly to grids and visual guidelines. Her devotion to playing with the surface in a controlled and measured way, has yet to be equalled – she is now 84 years old.

The Curve Paintings all follow a bendy, or, umm, curvy line. But lines they still are. Some fragmented, some almost square, yet each one recognisably her. During the 1980s she fell out of fashion but still kept her nerve; I adore her for that. Why be panicked by fashion, when, ultimately, you are fashion?

Until 6 September at De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill On Sea, East Sussex: 01424-229111,

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