Bridget Riley

Deny II


Not on display

Bridget Riley born 1931
Polyvinyl acetate emulsion paint on canvas
Support: 2172 × 2172 × 40 mm
Purchased 1976

Display caption

Riley manipulates shapes and colours in her paintings to produce disorientating visual effects. Here she explores the effects created by the contrast of different ‘warm’ and ‘cool’ greys. Ovals painted in a range of cool greys are set against a warm dark grey background. The darker ovals, closer in tone to the background, make the difference in colour more noticeable. Where the tonal contrast is greatest, between the lighter ovals and the grey background, the difference in colour is hard to identify, or ‘denied’ as the title implies. The visual effect also gives the illusion of a darker ‘V’ shape, where in fact the background consists only of a single colour.

Gallery label, October 2019

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Catalogue entry

T02030 DENY II 1967

Inscribed ‘Riley’ on stretcher
PVA on canvas, 85 1/2×85 1/2 (217.2×217.2)

Purchased from the Peter Stuyvesant Foundation (Trustees of Tate Gallery and Discretionary Funds) 1976

Coll: Peter Stuyvesant Foundation (through the Rowan Gallery) 1967
Exh:Summer Exhibition, Robert Fraser Gallery, July 1967 (as ‘Untitled’ 1967); Recent British Painting, Peter Stuyvesant Collection, Tate Gallery, November–December 1967 (68 repr.); XXXIV Biennale, Venice, June–October 1968 (British Pavilion 14, repr. in separate Bridget Riley catalogue); Phillip King and Bridget Riley, Museum Boymans van Beunigen, Rotterdam, January–March 1969 (13); Sixth Adelaide Festival of the Arts, Art Galley of South Australia, 1970 (62)
Lit: Maurice de Sausmarez, Bridget Riley, 1974, repr. in colour pl.51; ‘Bridget Riley interviewed by David Sylvester’, Studio International CLXXIII, March 1967 pp.132–135.

‘Deny II’ is the second of two completed paintings from a projected series on the theme of denial. The series was planned in 1966 when a number of gouache studies were made. ‘Deny I’, also of 1966, is now in the Chase Manhatten Bank, New York.

The artist explained in an interview with David Sylvester (op. cit, quoted in Sausmarez p.76) that her intention was to ‘oppose a structural with a tonal movement and to release increased colour through reduction of tonal contrast.’ In addition to the ‘denial’ factor implicit in the contradictory tonal and directional elements, the misty or smoky area across the canvas was intended to act as a screen between the spectator and the image, ‘obscuring, denying it’. Deny I and II were the first works in which Riley demonstrated the possibilities of the oval unit fully in terms of movement-direction and speed, and it represents a departure from her earlier interest in the more restrictive circle. Commenting on her use of the oval in an interview with Robert Kudielka (1972), she said ‘In a sense the oval is a directional circle. Its range lies between the emphasis on direction on the one hand (at the expense of circularity) and on circularity at the expense of direction on the other. An oval is quite different in character at each extreme. When it is highly directional it is a light, fast form, and as the directional aspect decreases it becomes heavy and static.’

‘Deny’ marks the culmination of the important transitional phase in Riley's work between her exclusive use of black and white (1961–64) and her adoption, after 1967, of an increasingly strong if limited range of colours. This phase saw a systematic exploration of the colour potential of ‘warm’ and ‘cold’ greys. In ‘Deny II’ the ovals (plotted on a grid of 361 equi-distant points) run in tonal sequences from near white at the centre to deep bluish blacks at the darkest point, on a uniformly dark ground. The artist has pointed out that ‘in the colour relationship of the darkest oval with the ground the colour is far more pronounced that it is between the lightest oval and the ground, where you get a tonal contrast-almost a black and white relationship-happening instead, which knocks the colour down.’

The theme of denial and the exploration of greys were further developed in the suite of four silkscreen prints ‘Nineteen Greys’ 1968 of which a set is in the Tate Gallery's Print Collection. The evident relationship between No (ii) in this series and ‘Deny II’, is confirmed by the artist's statement that the Deny studies were in fact the starting point for ‘Nineteen Greys’.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1974-6: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1978


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