Bridget Riley is widely regarded as one of Britain’s greatest painters, making her name in the Op Art movement. She has always had strong ties with the National Gallery, and elements of her output relate to works here by Raphael, Mantegna and Seurat. Currently Riley has being given reign over the Sunley Room at the gallery, where a mini exhibition features some of her more recent paintings as well as two drawings made directly onto the walls done specially for the occasion. These murals will be painted over when the event ends in May this year.
I have always been intrigued by Bridget Riley’s seductive use of colour and shapes. Her work is very consistent with strong graphic qualities and themes of pattern, repetition and sequence. The Sunley Room is light and airy and very pleasant to just sit and relax in. I enjoyed contemplating the works, and as I went during the day on a weekday the space was almost empty. Riley will be eighty this year, and nowadays does little of the painting herself, with a team of assistants she is able to delegate, direct and design.
The more illusionistic of her works tend to make me feel a little dizzy though I am nonetheless impressed by her accurate and otherworldly use of perspective. There is only one picture on display that appears to be of this kind, 'Arrest 3' (1965) a sultry painting depicting mesmerising waves in tones of blue. I particularly liked ‘Saraband’ (1985) an oil loaned from a private collection. The picture is just stripes of different colours, but there is something about the chosen hues that makes the canvas come to life. I remember thinking it would make brilliant wrapping paper!
This exhibition is free and is a lovely example of Riley’s oeuvre though I was disappointed to see such a small display at the National Gallery, with only about fifteen works on show I left yearning for more.