Flashback: Bridget Riley at The Walker

 October 19, 2009         2 Comments

You’ll know Bridget Riley’s work, even if you think you don’t. Light, colours, shapes, lines… all combining to give you a headache or make you fall over.

The Flashback exhibition at The Walker is designed as a taster, and gives an impression the evolution of Riley’s work over the years.

From the 60s – which seem to show Riley as an arty, sexy auteur in the same mould as a Verity Lambert and show her work on shape and tone differences – through to more modern excursions into chromatic contrasts and collage, Riley has an unsung pillar of modern, er, modernism.

I think there’s a bit of diminishing returns as time goes by, but the earlier stuff is amazingly effective, and the accompanying studies are fascinating in showing the painstaking work that went into them.

Riley’s pictures don’t claim any wider significance, indeed she makes the point that they don’t mean anything, they’re simply sensory wonders. In fact, Riley would probably wouldn’t go as far as that, but it all gets a bit reductive after a while.

Riley’s work tests the very limits of the human eye’s abilities to translate information to the brain, and for the brain to make sense of it.

If Riley’s pictures are about anything I suppose it’s the actions of the eye and brain in attributing meaning to what they perceive. They evoke image like the ripples in water, and the movement of clouds. Or do they? It’s all very confusing.

An accompanying documentary at the Walker is both intriguing and rather pompous. I do like Riley’s piece but I can’t attach any more significance to them that the teasing question of exactly what they’re doing to my eyes and brain. But I’m not interested in pondering whether the amount to art.

Standing in front of them is quite something, but I don’t think I’d like to have one on the wall. Like a dizzying, exhilarating fairground ride they’re best experienced and then left behind, the vague after-impression lingering long after.

• Flashback runs at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool until 13 December 2009

Comments

  1. One way – God knows whether it’s the best or only way – to view Bridget Riley’s work is to start at the start. When we look at ‘Art’, we inevitably ‘look’. That is, we gaze.

    We look/gaze ‘at’ Art, as active observers, and seek something back from the ‘passive’ object. Conventionally, our expectations are rewarded.

    But what happens to our ‘expectations’ when the Art is active back at us? That is, when the visual ‘thing’ we gaze at is not passive, but ‘active’ In Riley’s work, the gazed-at object is visually active, stirring reconfigurations of shape and form as we gaze, and thereby prompting us to remember that Art can be not so much ‘gazed-at’ as ‘gazed-with’

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