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Decades-spanning survey of one of the most original artists of our time to open

ONE of the most original artists will be celebrated at the National Galleries of Scotland (NGS) this summer with a decades-spanning survey of the stunning paintings of Bridget Riley, in what will be the Galleries’ major summer and Festival blockbuster.

Over the course of a remarkable career, which has spanned seven decades, Bridget Riley has developed a unique visual language, making dazzling and compelling abstract paintings which explore the fundamental nature of our perception.

Her earliest abstract works were closely associated with the emergence of Op Art, one of the last modern movements in art, which appeared in the mid- 1960s.

In the following 50 years she forged a singular path, extending her means in new and ground-breaking ways, and her work has been exhibited and collected across the world. She is one of the most distinguished and internationally renowned artists working today.

Bridget Riley will be the first major survey of Riley’s work to be held in the UK for 16 years, and the first of its scale to be staged in Scotland.

Organised by the NGS in close collaboration with the artist herself, and presented in partnership with Hayward Gallery, London, the exhibition will be shown first in Edinburgh, in the Royal Scottish Academy, from June to September 2019, before travelling to Hayward Gallery in London, where it will be shown from October 2019 until January 2020.

The work of Bridget Riley. Photo supplied via NGS

Through her observations of nature and the world around us, her careful study of the work of other painters – in particular Georges Seurat (1859-91), Claude Monet (1840-1926), Paul Cézanne (1839-1906), Henri Matisse (1859-91), Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) and Paul Klee (1879-1940) – and through her own sustained experimentation, Riley has made a long and penetrating investigation into the art of picture-making, and how we see. Her work explores the ways in which we learn through looking, using a purely abstract language of simple shapes, forms and colour to create sensations of light, space, volume, rhythm and movement.

This exhibition will place particular emphasis on the origins of Riley’s work, and will trace pivotal, decisive movements in her acclaimed career.

It will feature early paintings and drawings, iconic black-and-white paintings of the 1960s, expansive canvases in colour, wall paintings and recent works, as well as studies that reveal Riley’s working methods.

Highlights will include early paintings inspired by the work of Georges Seurat, such as Pink Landscape (1960); Riley’s first abstract paintings, Kiss and Movements in Squares (both 1961); and other iconic works of the 1960s and 1970s, including Fission (1963) and Current (1964), from the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and Paean (1973) from Tokyo’s Museum of Modern Art. The exhibition will also include Drift 2 (1966), and Late Morning (1967-8) and Rise 1 (1968), both key, large-scale colour paintings first shown at the 1968 Venice Biennale, where Riley won the International Prize for painting, the first British contemporary painter to do so.

The exploration of colour’s relativity has been the driving force of Riley’s work, and the exhibition will trace the development of this interest: from her early vertical and horizontal stripe paintings; through her twist and curve paintings of the 1970s such as Persephone 2 (1970), Aubade (1975) and Clepsydra (1976); the second series of stripe paintings using her ‘Egyptian’ palette, such as Ra (1981); through to the introduction of the diagonal in the vibrantly orchestrated ‘rhomboid’ paintings and curvilinear paintings of the 2000s. Recent developments in Riley’s practice will be presented, including her re-engagement with black and white in Cascando (2015), shown with Tremor (1962), a recent series of disc paintings, entitled Measure for Measure, and a new painting made this year, Intervals 2 (2019).

A feature of the exhibition will be the bringing together of a number of key works in a series, which offer fascinating insights into how Riley has developed, as she says, through ‘the spirit of enquiry’. Riley makes many preparatory studies and drawings en-route to a painting, relying essentially upon her eye to judge the unfolding of a motif as she works, constantly making decisions about scale, format and colour, in order to arrive at the resolution of tensions and tempo which mark a completed work. As well as paths followed and developed, the exhibition will show some areas of enquiry, which the artist chose not to follow, for example, Continuum (1963/2005), her only 3 dimensional work.

The exhibition will bring together some 50 major paintings from public and private collection around the world, as well as a large number of works on paper, including a selection of works from Bridget Riley’s early years, many of which are being shown for the first time.

Speaking about the exhibition, Simon Groom, Director of Modern and Contemporary Art at National Galleries of Scotland, said: “We are absolutely thrilled to be bringing together so many major paintings from across Riley’s long and distinguished career to show the radical development and constant creative evolution of work by an artist who has been at the forefront of the international avant-garde since the early 1960s.

“In pioneering such a distinctive body of work, Riley has expanded the possibilities for painting, as she has profoundly changed the way we think about – and look at – art.”

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