Compton Verney in Warwickshire provided a very enjoyable visit three years ago, taking in Op Art and some wonderful works by Bridget Riley. Her works were also a very valuable artistic juxtaposition to the Barbara Hepworth retrospective we visited in Wakefield earlier this year. So it was a great delight finding her being interviewed by Kirsty Wark recently on BBC One.
Wark’s relaxed interviewing style allowed Bridget Riley, at ninety, to reveal her brilliant incisive mind to travel through her artistic career. There is the young Riley, feeling uncomfortable and angry, as her artistic innovations are stolen by the commercial sixties fashion world. The point emphasised the problems of modern artists becoming celebrities in the twentieth century.
Riley then emerges the mature, and more settled, describing her art, which she refers to as figurative and landscape, rather than abstract or Op Art, revealing to the viewer just how innovative her work is and how connected it is with art historical ideas. The influences of the past are all there, from the Italian Renaissance frescos of Masaccio, Cezanne’s challenging perspective, and the colour theories of George Seaurat. What was revealing was her interest in the palette of the ancient Egyptian art, which she employed in huge works covering walls and corridors in hospitals.
The programme, with many contributors including some very thoughtful remarks from Tracey Emin, can be found on BBC iPlayer and is a must to understand this great British artist, and how the optical relationship between two dimensional paintings and the viewer works. The exciting mobility which the images reveal as you stand before them and the changing colours are some of the great examples of the involvement of the spectator in visual art.
I recently discussed technique, originality and emotion as attributes for great art. Riley’s work has all these in spades.