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Bridget Riley

Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh until September 22
Five stars

Ways of Seeing are everything in this major overview of one of the UK’s greatest living painters. With work over seven decades shown across ten rooms, Bridget Riley’s vast back-catalogue at first appears to move back and forth in straight lines. As she goes from black and white to colour and back again, however, sensory responses are bent out of shape to a dizzying degree.

While it's easy to lose yourself in the ever-pulsating Op-art groove of her mod-friendly mid-1960s monochrome, Riley’s depths are infinitely more nuanced. From checks to stripes to diagonals, the large-scale works are both dazzling and expectation-confoundingly monumental. They are possessed too with a shape-shifting musicality that provokes a mind-melding physical response.

At times it's hard not to gaze on some of the paintings without accompanying the experience with some similarly disorientating conjured-up tripscape. But these are good vibrations, and, as Riley states it, she is more interested in what she calls 'the pleasures of sight' than any kind of neurological sensurround. This is why her installation, the three-dimensional walk-through of Continuum, remains a solitary interactive anomaly.

If there is an umbilical link running throughout, it is an increasing expansiveness as the decades roll on, provoking a palette drawn more from fourth world rhythms than the first. This makes for a thrilling dynamic, as the different coloured shapes seem to dance with each other.

Beyond kaleidoscopic exhilaration, there is a painstaking meticulousness to Riley’s work. The roots of this can be found in the first and last rooms, which book-end the exhibition, first with a look at the influence of nineteenth century French artist Georges Seurat, then with a revelatory display of early, pre-abstract works. A room full of preparatory drawings too shows off Riley’s painstaking attention to detail and the sheer graft involved in what she does. This is proof positive, if it were needed, that in Riley’s world, nothing's ever really black and white. 

The List, June 2019.



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