May 19, Bassacs '94
Gouache: 26(h) x 33.9(w) in /
66(h) x 86(w) cm
Signed, dated and inscribed lower left and right: May 19, Bassacs '94 Bridget Riley ’94
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BRIDGET RILEY CH CBE
Born London 1931
May 19, Bassacs ‘94
Signed, dated and inscribed lower left and right:
May 19, Bassacs ’94 Bridget Riley ’94
Gouache: 26 x 33 ⅞ in / 66 x 86 cm
Frame size: 32 x 39 ½ in / 81.3 x 100.3 cm
Galerie Michael Sturm, Stuttgart
Private collection, acquired from the above
Kendal, Abbott Hall Gallery, Bridget Riley: Recent Painting and Gouaches, 1st May – 9th June 1996
In a conversation with Isabel Carlisle that was published in the exhibition catalogue Bridget Riley Works 1961 – 1998, Riley spoke about how from 1986 onwards her working process as an artist changed with the rise of a strong diagonal dynamic in her works. As interviewer Isabel Carlisle put it to Riley, these works ‘offer an experience of looking which allows the eye to enter and emerge at a myriad number of places’ and she asked if, when creating these works, the creative impetus of working with constraints had given way to the creative freedom of release from constraints, if this new working process gave Riley a greater sense of freedom. Riley replied: ‘It certainly has changed, and that in a fundamental way. I wanted to get more involved with the problems of painting in a plastic sense – building different places, layering depths and trying to provide multiple visual readings. But first I had to give up some staple tenets of my work which I had long held. The most difficult to forego was colour interaction, which although still present is no longer so dominant. This entailed shifting my work over from a perceptual orientation to one of sensation … I love Rilke’s comment on the ‘good conscience of these reds, these blues’ in a Cézanne painting, meaning that each of them had most scrupulously been put in the right place and at the right pitch.’
This present gouache maintains the palette and structure that Riley developed following a trip to Egypt during the winter of 1979-80; this marked a breakthrough for the artist signalling a new direction, palette and structure within her work. It was sites such as the museum at Cairo and the ancient tombs at Luxor that inspired an Egyptian palette of powerful colours including blue, turquoise, yellow and red, whose brilliance necessitated a return to a simplified formal structure; the neutral stripe. The uniform precision of Riley’s decisive design and immaculate finish enables the uninterrupted interaction of colours and the fleeting visual sensations they create. Like a passage of music, Riley carefully composes colour chords across the canvas, punctuated by accents of black to establish the rhythm and white to provide a pause.
As Riley adopted her ‘Egyptian palette’ to her work, she also achieved further visual resonance through the use of her diagonal compositional format that altered the aesthetic of her work dramatically. May 19, Bassacs ’94 is an exemplary diagonal stripe composition in which Riley has both diagonally and vertically divided the surface of the canvas in order to create a multiplicity of distinct and discrete areas of colour. A strong diagonal emphasis can also be found in earlier works such as Cataract 3 (1967) and Arrest 3 (1965), both painted during the late 1960’s. These earlier works concentrated more on disturbing the perceived surface as one layer; however the later paintings produced from 1987 onwards created a much greater sense of regression and progression with the diagonal forms, appearing to both pass in front of and behind the vertical structure of the painting. This ambiguity of space – always a concern of Riley’s – is now developed further than in any pervious works, the viewer now being less a spectator if the image being unfolded before them than an active participant in an image which constantly rearranges itself in a form that is virtually impossible to define.
‘Eventually I found what I was looking for in the conjunction of the vertical and diagonal … this conjunction was the new form. It could be seen as a patch of colour – acting almost like a brush mark. When enlarged, these formal patches become coloured planes that could take up different positions in space.’
Bridget Riley, Conversation, 1992
Oil on canvas: 92 x 126 cm
Abbot Hall Art Gallery
BRIDGET RILEY CH CBE
Born London 1931
Born in London in 1931, Bridget Riley spent most of her childhood in Cornwall near Padstow in a cottage with her mother, aunt and younger sister, her father being away in the armed forces during the War. From 1946-48 she was educated at Cheltenham Ladies College, where she was introduced by her teacher Colin Hayes to the history of painting and encouraged to attend a local life class. Riley went on to study at Goldsmith’s College of Art from 1949-52 under Sam Rabin and then at the RCA from 1952-5 at the same time as Frank Auerbach, Peter Blake, Joe Tilson and John Bratby.
A long period of unhappiness followed her graduation from the RCA as Riley nursed her father after a serious car accident and subsequently suffered a nervous breakdown. After a number of jobs she joined the J Walter Thompson advertising agency.
In 1959 Riley took part in a summer school in Suffolk organised by Harry Thubron, and met Maurice de Sausmarez, who became her friend and mentor, going on to write the first monograph of her work. On tour in Italy in the summer of 1960, Riley painted Pink Landscape, 1960, a key piece in her early development. Having broken with Sausmarez and suffered an artistic crisis, her attempts to create an entirely black painting produced her first black-and-white works. She held her first solo show 1962 at Gallery One, London and won the International Prize for painting at the 34th Venice Biennale in 1968, the first British contemporary painter and first woman ever to win.
The work of Bridget Riley is represented in the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; The British Council; the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City; the Berardo Collection; Sintra Museum of Modern Art, Lisbon; the Arts Council Collection Hayward Gallery, London; the Tate, London; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Neues Museum, Nurnberg; the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam; the Sheffield Galleries and Museums Trust; The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo and the Sezon Museum of Modern Art, Kitasaku.
 Bridget Riley, Works 1961 – 1998, exhibition catalogue, Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Kendal, Cumbria, 1998, p. 10
 The artist cited in, Bridget Riley Flashback, exhibition catalogue, Hayward Gallery, London, 2009, p. 18