Bridget Riley, The Complete Prints, is a highly impressive completely up-to-date catalogue raisonné of this highly respected British artist’s graphic work over almost sixty years.
This very welcome volume brings together more than a hundred prints made since 1962 and explores Riley’s development as a printmaker as well as her relationship with leading printers in the UK.
One of Britain’s greatest living artists, Riley has made prints throughout her almost sixty year career, extending the principles of her paintings into the editioned silk-screen medium.
She is of course most renowned as a painter, but the head-spinning paintings for which she has become famous were something relatively slow to develop. She had not developed her own style and experimented broadly, for example painting figure subjects in a semi-impressionist manner, and trying out pointillist landscapes.
Developing from these modernist inspired experiments with perception, she evolved a style in which she explored the dynamic potential of optical phenomena. These so-called ‘Op-art‘ pieces, that produce a visually disorienting physical effect on the eye became her stock in trade, which she has continued to develop and investigate to this day.
In the introduction to Bridget Riley, The Complete Prints Riley attributes the roots of her printmaking practice to Willie Landels, an art director at Walter J Thompson where Riley worked for a few years in the sixties. Landels wanted a copy of one of Riley’s black and white works, Movement in Squares, and she created a version of this for him.
She welcomed his support and enjoyed the process and subsequently Riley has worked in print almost in parallel to her work as a painter. Rather than being a direct continuation of the paintings it is something that has allowed her to move in new directions.
Riley states that ‘printmaking has been a very valuable addition to my working life as a painter, allowing me to extend particular trains of thought… a sort of appendix to my work in the studio’.
In this respect Bridget Riley, The Complete Prints provide us with a valuable insights into the explorations and compositional devices that she makes on her way to making a painting. Sometimes the prints were simply versions of the paintings in an exhibition, and perhaps sold to raise money for causes.
On other occasions the prints were creative artworks in their own right perhaps developing a theme, such as with Untitled [Nineteen Greys]. In turn, the prints would inspire her paintings.
This printmaking has been an intermittent activity, rather than a continuous engagement whilst Riley’s work as a whole is characterised by consistency in partner with innovation. ‘All my work is one thing, as it were,’ she wrote in 1978, ‘it may appear different, but it is essentially the same.’
Bridget Riley, The Complete Prints allows us to see clearly her development. We view the development from the 1960s when Riley worked initially in black-and-white, adding only gradations of grey tones, using shapes as formal elements before the greys later took on colour and became a theme in their own right.
By the second half of the decades Riley introduced colour, restricting herself chiefly to stripes, lines, diagonals and more curves, creating a new sense of movement: these complex structures produce visual sensations and experiences that are both subtle and arresting.
Later Riley explores broader pictorial issues, breaking up the picture plane and opening up sensations of space and depth. Wall paintings, for instance the Arcadia group and Rajasthan gather momentum. Repetition and rhythm continue to play a vital part in building and holding together these new plastic forces of the recent work.
The publication of this new catalogue raisonné follows Riley’s critically acclaimed 2019 painting retrospective at the Hayward Gallery and coincides with a new exhibition of 5o years of her prints at Cristea Roberts Gallery.
For more information visit Thames and Hudson
Bridget Riley, Prints 1962-2020 is at Cristea Robert Gallery until 17 October 2020. For more information visit Cristea Roberts.com/exhibitions
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