Curator’s Choice – Around by Bridget Riley

Posted: 23rd December 2020

Humber Museums Partnership - Curator’s Choice – Around by Bridget Riley

Image: Around, 1963, Bridget Riley, Emulsion on board. © Bridget Riley 2021. All rights reserved

For my second object selection I have chosen Around, 1963, by Bridget Riley.

Around, 1963, is an example of Riley’s iconic black and white paintings of the 1960s. The monochrome palette and repeated sequence of simple shapes is both modest but startling. This artwork stood out to me because of the physical impact it has when you stand in front of it. I find the longer I spend looking, the more it reveals. What at first appears to be a chaotic image exposes a truly obsessive, rhythmic nature (that is once you’ve got over the initial dizziness).

Despite being visually confusing, Around follows a logical pattern. The work is made up of three vertical panels of small black triangles within a grid of white. Within each column the triangles transform as they go down the surface of the painting. In the columns on either side, downward facing black triangles shift gradually from left to right. In the central column these triangles also shift left to right, this time pointing upwards. This obsessive repetition creates an illusion of movement, as if the work is shuddering. It is only when you slow down to examine the pattern of the work that you can make sense of these disorientating shapes.

Bridget Riley is an internationally-acclaimed artist and a pioneer of Op Art. Op Art grew out of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, in which artists had used pure dots of colour, which were mixed by the eye when viewed at a distance. This optical effect is taken one step further in Op Art, with artists making technique the sole focus by completely removing subject matter or any relation to the real world. Instead, Op Art focusses on formal arrangements of abstract line and shape. It is a movement entirely focussed on sensation, and on an artwork’s physical effect on the viewer.

In the 1960s Riley began her first Op Art paintings, working solely in black and white. These iconic works used geometric abstraction to startling effect, using repetitive line and shape to create a sense of depth, movement and vibration. Around is a characteristic of her work in this period. It was around this time that Riley’s work and Op Art became known internationally. Op Art captured the imagination of the public and by 1965 its distinctive style was being used in fashion, fabrics, and advertising.

Riley went on to incorporate wave forms and colour. This exploration continued throughout the 1970s, with Riley exploring possibilities of rhythm and proportion. Like much of Riley’s work, these colour works produce illusions of depth and movement in a magical way.

Around is a painting grounded in the present. It encourages me to focus on my immediate physical reactions, and push aside a desire for hidden meaning or context. For me, Around is a reminder to be mindful of my own feelings when viewing art, and to value a visual response as much as intellectual understanding.

Written by Exhibitions Assistant Elizabeth Lindley.

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