Bridget Riley

Achæan

1981

In Tate Britain
Artist
Bridget Riley born 1931
Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 2390 x 2023 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased 1983
Reference
T03816

Display caption

Riley is a leading figure of op art – short for optical art. Her paintings use geometric shapes and colour to trick the eye and explore the nature of perception. She made Achæan after visiting Egypt in 1979. Her experience there led her to intensify the colours in her painting. Riley developed what she called her ‘Egyptian palette’, inspired by ancient Egyptian tomb paintings and the local landscape. The simplicity of Riley’s striped composition allows her colours to establish the painting’s structure.

Gallery label, May 2019

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Catalogue entry

T03816 Achaian 1981

Oil on canvas 94 × 79 3/4 (2390 × 2023)
Inscribed ‘Riley/' 81’ on edge of canvas b.l., ‘ACHAIAN, Riley 1981 Oil on linen’ along centre bar of stretcher, and ‘ACHAIAN, /Riley 1981/Oil on linen, 94 × 79 5/8’, ‘This painting looks/best in natural/daylight’ and ‘TOP ↑” (twice) on reverse
Purchased from the artist through Juda Rowan Gallery (Grant-in-Aid) 1983
Lit: Robert Cumming, ‘Colour and Light: the Visit to Egypt’, Working with Colour, Recent Paintings and Studies by Bridget Riley, Arts Council, 1984 (n.p.)

‘Achaian’ is one of the ‘Egyptian’ series of paintings by Bridget Riley, which use a palette of colours derived from her experience of the landscape and tomb paintings of Egypt, seen on a visit in autumn 1981. Particular shades of these colours - yellow, blue, red and turquoise - she regarded as a breakthrough in that they gave the optical effect which she sought and are brighter and purer than the colours she had previously been using.

The cartoons for the paintings in this series were made from coloured strips of gouache, which were laid flat as if in a painting and yet could be rearranged. There is no regular system in the placing of the colours, which is not symmetrical, although in some places the sequence has the appearance of a reflection about a central colour.

The artist reads the painting horizontally across the bands, pointing to variations of hot and cold colour, with ‘accents’ in the design in certain places. The title was given after the painting was finished, and refers to the Greeks who made ‘the finest early sculpture - vigorous but simple’ (conversation of 11 April 1986) and which corresponded to the character of the painting as ‘dark and Mediterranean’.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986

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