Jonathan Horwich, Modern Art Specialist
It is impossible not to be moved both spiritually and physically while standing in front of a major work by Bridget Riley. She belongs to a painting movement known as ‘Op Art’.
Not to be confused with Pop Art, Op Art is short for Optical Art, a style of visual art that uses optical illusions and effects with the aim of destabilising the viewer. The viewer gets the impression of movement, hidden images, flashing and vibrating patterns or of swelling and warping. The movement emerges in the 1960’s and includes other major International artists such as Victor Vasarely and Jesus Rafael Soto.
Just try standing directly in front of a Riley work, especially a large 60’s black and white piece. It truly is a unique experience. After a few seconds you begin to feel woozy, then you begin to feel like you are being pulled into the picture itself and so you begin to move involuntarily and to sway gently to gain access, and then your eyes go fuzzy. This effect all comes from the artist’s specific design and her precise aim is to make this happen to you.
Bridget Riley uses a studio system to make her pieces; she makes the original design and then her super skilled team produce the finished pictures under her direct supervision throughout. Her distinctive way of working owes little to other artists and her skill, knowledge and experience now spans over 50 years as a working artist. By using a studio method with teams of people who will carry out her ideas and put them into practice means she is freed up to constantly have new ideas and to refresh her art and output.
I love the sheer precision of her work and also the variety, and I marvel at how she manages to always make it undoubtedly recognisable as the work of Bridget Riley. The most desirable and expensive pieces are the black-and-white works which span the early 60’s from 1961-1964. These culminate in the 1965 exhibition ‘ The Responsive Eye’ held at MOMA New York, when ‘Current’ 1964, by Riley was selected for the front cover of the catalogue.
Colour works begin to emerge from 1967 onwards and are inspired by places Riley knows or has visited. For example, the ‘Ka’ and ‘Ra’ series relate to her visits to Egypt and evoke the colours, shapes and light in Egypt. The series, ‘Les Bassacs’ is inspired and named after the village of the same name in Provence, near to where Riley has her studio.
For collectors there is much to choose from; an easy and affordable starting point being the many limited-edition prints, followed by works on paper and then paintings. The big money has until recently been for the 60’s black and white works only which inevitably are now very rare, so in recent years large scale colour works from the 70’s and 80’s and later have increased in price significantly.
For me, the genius of Bridget Riley is that her work never dates and is always fresh and vibrant in its intensity and vision.