Bridget Riley - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, June 26, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Galerie Max Hetzler, London
    Private Collection, London

  • Literature

    Robert Kudielka, Alexandra Tommasini and Natalia Naish, eds., Bridget Riley The Complete Paintings, Volume 4: 2009-2017, London, 2018, no. BR 618, pp. 1600-1601 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    At once whimsical and didactic, mischievous and academic, Bridget Riley’s Giocoso, 2017, combines all the defining features of the eponymous opera genre. While the former set of qualities is evident in the painting’s colourful hues and fanciful compositional arrangement, – thus providing a direct echo to the literal definition of giocoso (‘playful’) – the latter characteristics become clear on further inspection, with the realisation that such a picture could only have been realised with extreme precision, skill and labour. ‘Each band has a clear identity’, Riley remarked. ‘Step back and the colours begin to interact, further away still a field of closely modulated harmonies cut by strong contrasts opens up' (Bridget Riley, quoted in ‘At the End of My Pencil’, London Review of Books, vol. 31, no. 19, 8 October 2009, online). An investigation into the mechanisms and effects of colour paired with repeated lines, Giocoso beautifully encapsulates Bridget Riley’s most celebrated painterly idiosyncrasies and thematic drive; it conveys her talent in achieving explosive rhythm whilst paradoxically enabling meditative contemplation.

    True to its charmingly revealing title, Giocoso straddles playfulness, levity, and the underlying seriousness of Riley’s sincere gesture and vision. A testament to her importance and enduring legacy within art historical discourse, an important selection of the artist’s work will be showcased at the Hayward Gallery, London on the occasion of a prodigious retrospective starting in October 2019.

    In Riley’s recent work, including the present Giocoso, the artist’s exploration of form, colour and perception has become increasingly intricate and subtle. Weaving a complex tableau of tonal bands that visually transforms into a very simple image, the present work deftly encapsulates Riley’s stylistic progression, delving further into the possibilities of colour. ‘I saw that the basis of colour is its instability’, she remarked. ‘Instead of searching for a firm foundation, I realised I had one in the very opposite. That was solid ground again, so to speak, and by accepting this paradox I could begin to work with the fleeting, the elusive, with those things which disappear when you actually apply your attention hard and fast – and so a whole new area of activity, of perception opened up for me’ (Bridget Riley, in conversation with Robert Kudielka, Bridget Riley, The Eye’s Mind, London, 2009, p. 85). Extending the spatial properties of colour, Riley simultaneously allows her paintings to become ‘a whole host of sensations’ (Bridget Riley, quoted in Robert Kudielka, Bridget Riley: Dialogues on Art, London, 1995, p. 70).

    While her early oeuvre had introduced a brazenly novel stance in the field of painting and formal art, trailblazingly experimenting with subversive compositional approaches bordering on illusion, Riley’s subsequent output established her visual syntax as a category of its own. Veering towards a formally taut and essential composition, Giocoso attends to the very structure of the picture plane, adroitly deploying its thinly coloured stripes through strict intervals of identical measurements. In contrast to Riley’s trademark curvilinear arrangements from the early 2000s, the painting, along with its illustrious sister works from the late 2010s, appears straightened and compositionally tame, as if mirroring the formal maturity that the artist gained in the prime of her career. Signifying the importance of this cycle of works within Riley’s opus, the stripe paintings have regularly punctuated her practice from as early as 1961, demonstrating her unwavering engagement with questions surrounding the interactive character of geometric forms.

    Though wholly unique and at times irreverently self-referential, Riley’s painting conjures multifarious visual references that cement it firmly within art historical discourse. Giocoso’s replicated horizontality throughout the canvas’s surface is at once redolent of natural layers of stratification, and reminiscent of the practice of Agnes Martin and other Minimalist protagonists, who similarly explored the possibilities of parallel lines and chromatic duplication. Adamantly parting ways with expressionist flourish, the Minimalists used the essential codes of geometric shapes and colour to convey an aesthetic of formal purity. Yet Riley’s work surpasses this intent, as it is infused with a sense of eccentricity that eschews the radical nature of the Minimalist gesture, brimming instead with playful tonalities that have often been attributed to Riley’s irreducibly British spirit, having lived and worked in London uninterruptedly since birth. Cultivating new techniques to hone her own abstract style, the artist continuously creates dizzying canvases where depth and visual stimuli emanate from a delicate positioning of lines. Though at first disorienting, Riley’s striped planes quickly settle as the eye adjusts to their whimsical arrangements, like soothed waves after tumultuous activity.

    The progression of Riley’s visual syntax from illusory structures, to chromatically explosive compositions, to formally complex and reduced works was incrementally designed, defined by myriad brilliant series which have since been seen to make sense both independently and as a collective oeuvre. Finding notoriety in the early 1960s, Riley immediately focused on simple geometric forms such as lines, circles, curves, and squares, arrayed across canvases, walls, or paper, recognising the influence of painters like Georges Seurat who, early on, had explored the dialogue between repeated shapes and altered perception. Riley’s original creations, initially explored to great effect in a trademark palette of black-and-white paint, exuded powerful vibrations and motion, in ways that recalled the moving planes of Impressionist paintings. The introduction of colour, in 1967, pushed the limits of Riley’s visual vocabulary to reach new heights of visual dynamism. Colour, according to Riley, allowed her to convey more naturalistic sensations, as they ‘inevitably lead you to the world outside’ (Bridget Riley, 'The Pleasures of Sight', exh. cat., Bridget Riley, Tate Britain, London, 2003, p. 213).

    Colour itself thus plays a quintessential part in Riley’s work. ‘It is as if, in the absence of depiction, colour and form have found a new, surprising synthesis and movement itself has been distilled to its pure, disembodied essence’ wrote Paul Moorhouse. ‘It is significant that these recent works should so vividly convey a sense of life, of élan, for at a fundamental level this is the underlying theme of her work’ (Paul Moorhouse, ‘A dialogue with Sensation: the Art of Bridget Riley’, Bridget Riley, Tate London, 2003, p.26). Brimming with life and energy, Giocoso projects essential, pared-down geometric forms on a large scale, amplifying the effect of disembodiment Moorhouse elucidated. It moreover produces something that had previously lacked in English art: audaciously electric abstraction, rendered possible by Riley's idiosyncratically subversive touch.

    The study in colour is one that has been undertaken by a number of artists, including the German painter Gerhard Richter. Sharing a kinship in investigative processes, the painter’s 1024 Farben (350-3), 1973, carries out an almost documentative deployment of the colour chart, in ways that are redolent of Riley’s tonal progressions. Yet, where Richter clinically arranged squares of colour to analyse the properties of each hue as an individual entity, Riley seems to attend to the idea of continuity, recalling the free-flowingly poetic formations of a rainbow, and using colour as a form in its own right. Employing an enthralling palette of pink, green, blue, yellow and orange, she explores how visual impressions can fluctuate through subtle changes in chromaticity, and produces a sublime microcosm of light akin to the vivid rays of a kaleidoscope. Enveloping the viewer, the uninterrupted lines punctuating the painting’s surface stretch from end to end of the large-scale canvas and elongate its horizon. Through eliminating white, Riley allows each colour to blend and glow without the interruption of negative space, which in turn creates amplified frequency and warmth.



signed, titled and dated ‘GIOCOSO Riley 2017’ on the overlap; further signed, titled and dated ‘GIOCOSO Riley 2017’ on the stretcher; further signed and dated 'Riley '17' on the turnover edge
oil on canvas
163 x 280 cm (64 1/8 x 110 1/4 in.)
Painted in 2017.

£800,000 - 1,200,000 

Sold for £951,000

Contact Specialist

Rosanna Widén

Director, Senior Specialist
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art

44 20 7318 4060
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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 27 June 2019