Brilliant Bridget sell out

By on 25/02/2010 in News

rileyA talk featuring artist Bridget Riley in conversation at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery this Wednesday is a sell out.

The talk was organised as part of the hugely successful in 'Bridget Riley - Flashback' exhibition at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery's Waterhall.  The show, which opened on 6th February and continues until 23 May, has already attracted nearly 6,000 visitors. 

The exhibition brings together iconic paintings from the Arts Council Collection and never before seen drawings loaned by the artist herself, as well as a painting from Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery's own collection.

Since the mid-1960s Bridget Riley has been celebrated for her distinctive, optically vibrant paintings and is one of the foremost proponents of 'Op Art' – a genre of visual art that uses geometric shapes and vivid colours to create optical illusions. The show includes notable paintings from the start of her career as well as ambitious and powerful works of recent years.

One of the original purposes of building the Arts Council Collection was to support emerging artists through the purchase of their work: 'Bridget Riley - Flashback' is the first in a new series of exhibitions that centre on one of those founding artist's works.  One of the highlights of the show is Riley's iconic Movement in Squares, which was purchased in 1962, the year in which it was made.  This will be an added delight for local audiences as the painting was unavailable for the Arts Council Collection's 'How to Improve the World' exhibition in Birmingham in 2007.
Councillor Martin Mullaney Cabinet Member for Leisure, Sport and Culture said; “I am delighted that 'Bridget Riley - Flashback' is proving to be such a great success.  It shows that local people have a great appetite for contemporary art and this is a great opportunity to see works by one of Britain's most important living artists.”

A limited edition print signed by Bridget Riley is for sale in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery shop. 

For further information please visit or telephone 0121 464 8887.  Free entry.


Media contact – Jason Lewis on 0121 303 4266

Notes to Editors

Below is a review of the Bridget Riley - Flashback exhibition by Terry Grimley (former Arts Correspondent at the Birmingham Post, now freelance)which you are able to use.

Bridget Riley - Flashback
The Waterhall, Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery

Of all the British artists who made their names in the early 1960s, Bridget Riley is arguably the one who has stuck most single-mindedly to her initial path.

Her early work in black and white is difficult to dissociate from the new wave of fashion and chic design which finally swept away Britain’s age of austerity in those heady years. But her commitment to hard-edged abstraction continued right through the 1980s, an era when by contrast it was completely out of fashion.  However, the end of that decade saw the emergence of successful young painters like Ian Davenport and Estelle Thompson whose work owed an obvious debt to hers.

The retrospective exhibition now showing at The Waterhall is part of a new series from the Arts Council called Flashback, reviewing the achievement of artists it has supported from the start of their careers by acquiring their work for its collection.

It certainly could not have been much quicker off the mark with Riley. Her Movement in Squares, which she painted in 1961 and was bought by the Arts Council in the following year, is the work she herself identifies as her starting point.  This painting (executed in tempera on hardboard - an interesting juxtaposition of ancient and modern media), resembles a black and white chess board in which the squares narrow sharply as they approach a vanishing point two-thirds of the way across, creating the illusion of the picture plane curving into itself.

This element of optical illusion coined the term Op Art, by which the work of Riley and various contemporaries was initially known. Her early work in black and white was notorious for being difficult to look at because of the intense optical vibrations it set up, and an early series of studies shows her exploring these possibilities on paper.

Drawing on many subsequent Arts Council acquisitions and works from the artist’s collection, plus the Museum & Art Gallery’s own Cherry Autumn from 1983, the exhibition goes on to span nearly half a century of visual explorations by the now 78 year-old artist.

Although her early work is often thought of as being exclusively black and white, a painting as early as Black to White Discs (1962) shows her experimenting with greys. In the small painting Burn (1964), a field of variously tipped triangles in black and grey sets up a visual oscillation.

The large Late Morning (1967/68) is an example of the striped paintings Riley showed as Britain’s representative at the Venice Biennale in 1968.  While leaving a powerful impression of red juxtaposed with blue, this painting actually deploys a complicated sequence of red, green, blue and white, where the additional width of the white stripes adds vibrancy. In fact, after 40 years these arguably remain Riley’s most intense paintings.

Certainly later striped paintings from the 1980s, such as Cherry Autumn and Ecclesia (1985) are more relaxed, retina-friendly and less likely to induce headaches. Contemplating them is rather like the visual equivalent of hearing a warm, reassuring musical chord.  In this sense they are less “Op” in the original understanding of the term, though clearly Riley has remained scientifically focused on the issue of how juxtaposed colours modify each other through direct contrast or through after-images which conjure up the colours’ opposites.

The most recent painting, Red with Red I (2007) finds Riley experimenting with swirling, curving forms which suggest paper cut-outs even before you discover a study for another recent painting which uses exactly this technique. These recent paintings notably introduce the broadest areas of flat colour in Riley’s work so far, but the sense of steady and sustained visual inquiry remains unbroken.

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