Bridget Riley

Gouache

1987

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Artist
Bridget Riley born 1931
Medium
Gouache on paper
Dimensions
Image: 177 x 176 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by Elisabeth Fantino, in memory of Dr Alfredo Fantino 2019
Reference
T15141

Summary

Gouache 1987 is a small square gouache painting positioned at the centre of a larger white piece of paper. Below the painting are two inscriptions written in grey pencil: at lower left is written ‘June 19’ – giving the exact date in June on which the painting was made – and on the right the artist has signed and dated ‘Bridget Riley 87’. The work has a colour palette dominated by lilac, green, orange and yellow, with lesser amounts of blue, red and pink. Its blocks of flat colour are shaped as truncated diagonals – or, as the artist calls them, ‘zigs’ – in conjunction with vertical bands. The resulting composition creates parallelograms of different sizes and suggests oppositional layers of receding space. This format is representative of a shift in Riley’s way of working that occurred in the spring of 1986. Her introduction of diagonals into her previously dominant arrangements of vertical stripes continued until 1997, in a sequence of works known as the ‘rhomboid paintings’ (see, for example, Nataraja 1993, Tate T06859, and the screenprint Fête 1989, Tate P78333). In conversation with the art historian Robert Kudielka in 1990, Riley explained:

I wanted more. A way of working which allowed me to get to grips with plastic issues, to get closer to the real problems of painting. I threw out notions of what the result should be. I crossed the vertical register with a strong diagonal, upsetting the balance of the canvas. That gave me time. I could work against those directional forces, counteracting them through colour and rhythm.
(Quoted in Kudielka 1990, p.138.)

Discussing these paintings further in 2011, Riley stated that their compositions were intended to be ‘something like a coherent fabric of colour which advances and recedes in planes’. She claimed that this was achieved because the vertical bands are ‘broken by diagonals’ and they therefore ‘assume the potentiality of planes, being separated components which can hold different colours, which in turn can take up different positions in pictorial depth’ (Bridget Riley and Michael Harrison, ‘Bridget Riley in Conversation with Michael Harrison’, in Bridget Riley: Colour, Stripes, Planes and Curves, exhibition catalogue, Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge 2011, pp.12, 16). In other words, by cutting across the vertical bands, the diagonal sections of colour suggest layers of receding space. 

According to former Tate curator Paul Moorhouse, the effect of Riley’s ‘diagonal forces’ is a redefinition of the relationship between the painting and its viewer. He noted that while the space in Riley’s previous works ‘appeared to advance towards the spectator’, the lattice effect of contrasting vertical and diagonal forces instead causes the reverse to happen: ‘A strange ambiguous space is sensed in the opposite direction – opening up depth and drawing the gaze inside the virtual space of the painting. However, this is an unstable, elusive arena in which planes of colour alternatively advance and recede.’ (Moorhouse 2003, p.24)

Further reading
Robert Kudielka (ed.), The Eye’s Mind: Bridget Riley Collected Writings 1965–1999, London 1999.
Paul Moorhouse (ed.), Bridget Riley, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2003.

Laura Castagnini
October 2018

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