Saturday, 15 January 2011


Bridget Riley’s Black to White Discs (1962) hangs in the National Gallery. It measures 178 x 178cm and features 81 discs painted in black and grey in a diamond formation. There are no white discs yet they are as visible as the black discs. It’s a giddying experience and a good example of the Op-Art style that made Riley’s name in the 60s and still apparent in her latest work Composition with Circles 7 (2010) with dozens of black rings painted directly onto an entire wall of the gallery: some overlap, some touch, and the eye attempts to find symmetry or a logical pattern. Arrest 3 (1965) is another trademark piece where black and grey wavy lines move like waves up and down and through the canvas.

It’s not all monochrome though: the stripes of Saraband (1985) predate the type of stripes now identified with Paul Smith and the recent series of curved intercutting shapes in block colours resemble abstract scythes cutting through cornfields. They don’t evoke the sensation of the black and white paintings but still (especially the larger scale work) merit a lingering look.

Not much of this was surprising due to the familiarity of Riley’s style but one eye catching painting was her submission to Goldsmith’s College in 1947 – Man with a Red Turban - a reproduction of Jan van Eyck’s 1433 oil painting (which has been displayed in the National Gallery since 1851), dispelling any notion she can “only” paint lines and shapes.

The size of the exhibition was a disappointment at first; having nothing like the scope or pieces of Riley’s retrospective at Tate Britain in 2003, but that was a major show and this is a little free addition. It was more enjoyable when passing by and popping in for second visit with expectations lowered.

Bridget Riley: Paintings and Related Work is at the National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London until 22 May 2011, admission free.


  1. Due to mild epilepsy, her work is now off limits to me. Went to the Serpentine Gallery exhibit some years back and had to sit down to look at the paintings. Even catching a passing glance as I walked past caused me to lose my balance.

    Very embarrassing.

  2. Ha, ha (sorry!). You'll be okay with this one - very mild and mellow (although saying that Mrs. Monkey did remark that the Discs one was similar to the outbreak of a migraine attack).