Bridget Riley - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Tuesday, October 4, 2016 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Kartsten Schubert, London
    Private Collection (acquired from the above in 1995)
    Christie's, London, 2 July 2014, lot 126
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    With its tightly-packed surface of vertical lines of colour, KA 2 is an enthralling composition which marked a new direction, palette and structure, as well as a return to oil painting, for Bridget Riley. Painted in 1980, KA 2 belongs to the cycle of Egyptian Palette paintings Riley produced in the wake of her influential visit to Egypt in the winter of 1979-1980. Through this series the artist invoked her sensations on visiting Egypt through the colours of its palette. She also captures the spirit of that nation, as the title itself refers to the ka, a crucial, immortal aspect of each human being according to ancient Egyptian belief.

    Discussing the origins of the Ka and Ra series in Riley’s trip to Egypt, Paul Moorhouse explained that the artist, ‘… visited the Nile Valley and the museum at Cairo, and was able to study, at first hand, the tombs of the later Pharoahs in the Valley of the Kings. Riley was astonished by the art she found in these ancient burial sites carved out of rock and located deep in the earth. These sacred places were dedicated to the dead, yet the tomb decoration was a vivid evocation of life and light [...] In looking at the art and craft of Ancient Egypt in the Cairo Museum, Riley recognised that the same colours had been used in all aspects of the Egyptians’ material lives, from the decorative to the purely functional’ (Paul Moorhouse, Bridget Riley, exh. cat., Tate Britain, London, 2003, p. 22).

    Upon her return, Riley decided to recreate the colours she had witnessed. Crucially, rather than copying these hues from reproductions in books, Riley relied exclusively on her own memory. This reveals the extent to which Riley’s pictures, such as KA2, are rooted in her own personal, subjective experience. This is a work based on sensation and feeling, rather than clinical conceptualism.

    In her quest to create a pure visual experience, with the luminosity of each colour pushed to an extreme, Riley opted for restrained, graphic simplicity. For this reason, she returned to the neutral motif of the vertical stripe, recalling the black and white compositions of her early ‘Op Art’ production. As seen in KA 2, each tone, aligned side by side, preserves its own individual brilliance and value, while at once engaging with those adjacent in a dynamic and optical pulsation of light. Echoing a rhythmic passage of music, Riley carefully sets up a chromatic progression, with salmon pink, yellow and green bordered by blue chords and interspersed with accents of black to add emphasis to the visual rhythm. The white stripes serve to introduce some visual relief, while also highlighting the boundaries of each colour zone.

    In KA 2, Riley’s clear fascination with the sonority of colours recalls her early interest in the works of the Neo-Impressionist painter Georges Seurat, after whom she even made studies during the 1950s. The Pointillist painter had sought to introduce light into the canvas through dots of pure colour, carefully placed either for contrast or harmony to intensify both their individual power and the overall effect. Similarly, Riley developed a mode of painting that employed the repetition of individual colours in geometric patterns, in this case lines. In this way, the lines surpass and transcend their own limitations, and work together to achieve a greater luminosity.


KA 2

signed and dated 'Riley '80' on the lower right turnover edge; further signed, titled and dated 'RILEY "KA 2" 1980' on the reverse and titled and dated 'RILEY "KA 2" 1980' on the stretcher
oil on linen
65.7 x 54.9 cm (25 7/8 x 21 5/8 in.)
Painted in 1980.

£250,000 - 350,000 

Sold for £293,000

Contact Specialist
Peter Sumner
Head of Contemporary Art, London
+44 207 318 4063

Henry Highley
Head of Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4061

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 5 October 2016