Thursday, 27 August 2015

Bridget Riley - De La Warr Pavilion

Bridget Riley, Streak 2, 1979 (Detail - click to see full image)
Bridget Riley: The Curve Paintings, 1961-2014 is at the De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill until 6 September 2015.
The three dimensional illusionism of some of the paintings in this excellent exhibition is palpable. The exhibition as a whole eloquently demonstrates the intelligent precision with which Riley manipulates colour and form to astonishing effects. Yet, although these pauntings are evidently the result of careful calculation they are overwhelmingly sensual objects. As Riley acknowledges, in the interesting catalogue discussion with Paul Moorhouse, she has been profoundly influenced by, notably, Seurat, Cezanne, Matisse and the Futurists. Yet a strength of the paintings is that the viewer need not know anything of the theory and knowledge that has informed them to appreciate their visual effects.
The show includes drawings and cartoons for paintings which reveal Riley's meticulous method. Amongst these is Study for 'Kiss', 1961 which Riley identifies as a breakthrough painting in which the curve as an animating and structural element made its debut in her work. The exhibition's title with the career spanning dates '1961-2014' obscures the fact (but which is made clear in the exhibition itself) that for a period of 17 years (1980-1997) the curve was 'banished' from her work in favour of the linear and diagonal. Thus the exhibition effectively shows 2 bodies of work, the optically dazzling and disturbing paintings made between 1961 and 1980 and the more subtle and calm essays in colour and form made between 1997 and 2014. 
It is a terrific show in a wonderful venue (see end of this blog entry) and a neat  complement to the exquisite Bridget Riley: The Stripe Paintings, 1961-2014 shown at David Zwirner last summer. (See blog entry below).
Read reviews/articles by  Geoff Hands, Maggie GrayMark Hudson, and Jonathan Jones
Click on images to enlarge.
Bridget Riley, Study for 'Kiss', 1961
Bridget Riley, Crest, 1964
Bridget Riley, Entice 2, 1974
Bridget Riley, Andante 1, 1980

Bridget Riley, Rêve, 1999

Bridget Riley, Red with Red 1, 2007
Bridget Riley, Rajasthan, 2012 - paint on plaster wall, instalation view

The exhibition venue, the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill is a work of art itself. This remarkable masterpiece of Modernist architecture was designed by Erich Mendelsohn and Serge Chermayeff and opened in 1935. Commissioned through a competition launched by Earl De La Warr, Mayor of Bexhill, 1932-34 and Chairman of the National Labour Party - it was proposed as a socialist pleasure palace by the sea. It is a thrill to visit this unlikely architectural presence in an English seaside resort (indeed, there is precious little such Modernist architecture to be found anywhere in the UK) - and how heartening it is that the building was saved from terminal decline by the enthusiasm of local councillor Jill Theis leading to a refurbishment in 2004-5. 
(No doubt the building is at its best glittering in the sun with  a view across the blue sea to France; on the day I chose to visit the rain poured down, but it was still fabulous.)
Click on images to enlarge.

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