30 3/4 x 26 3/4 in
Galerie Konstruktiv Tendens, Stockholm
Juda Rowan Gallery, London
Exhibitions2016, London, Piano Nobile, Aspects of Abstraction: 1952-2007, 17 May - 23 June 2016, cat. no. 17, col. ill. p. 55.
Paul Moorhouse (ed.). Bridget Riley (Tate Publishing, 2003), KA series discussed p.22-23, KA 7 col. ill. fig 12.
Following several years of artistic struggle, Bridget Riley turned to pure abstraction in 1961 with the painting, Kiss. This work precipitated immense international recognition and success for Riley as she systematically analysed perceptual effects in abstraction. With meticulous geometrical preparatory drawings, Riley’s strategies of optical illusion appeared to set the canvas in motion, activating the canvas to become a dynamic entity rather than a passive object to be surveyed. To a certain extent, contemporaries including John Golding and John Hoyland explored various aspects of internal relationships within a painting such as planes, recessions, and colour effects, but none exploited the perceptual potential of abstraction with such accomplishment as Riley. In 1965, two of Riley’s works were exhibited in a major survey of Op Art, The Responsive Eye, at MoMA, and Riley’s work was enthusiastically received in New York. Despite superficial similarity, however, Riley’s perceptual investigations foregrounding illusion was at odds with the predominance of Greenbergian formalism in New York and its emphasis on materiality in abstraction. Riley, who removed her own hand from the painting process, transferring this element to studio assistants, was very much an individual and a pioneer.
From 1961 onwards, Riley experimented with curves, dots, zigzags, and colour but her work underwent a fundamental shift with a visit to Egypt in 1979 to 1980. She visited the Nile Valley, Cairo Museum, and the tombs of the Pharaohs in the Valley of the Kings. During this trip, she was struck by the select group of colours used throughout these monuments in every schema from the mundane to the monumental: red, blue, yellow, turquoise, green, black and white. This handful of colours was to form the so-called ‘Egyptian palette’ upon her return, a seminal moment of transformation in her career.
The KA series, produced almost immediately after her trip to Egypt, made evident the impact of these colours upon Riley – she later recalled in conversation with Michael Harrison “it was a very sturdy, strong group of colours with infinite flexibility”. KA IV from the series presents a predominance of blue and turquoise with red, white, black, and yellow. The works with the ‘Egyptian palette’ were all constructed with stripes. Talking to Mel Gooding, Riley explained: “I chose long thin vertical stripes, because they have very little body and are mostly ‘edges’. The interaction between colours is most intense when one colour borders on another…When placed vertically the colour event is seen as a horizontal spread of coloured light.”
From the outset of her career, Riley was influenced by the consideration of colour and light in the work of the Impressionists and particularly Seurat’s pointillism. In an important essay of 1984, Riley wrote “Colour is the proper means for what I want to do because it is prone to inflections and inductions existing only through relationship…the colours are organised on the canvas so that the eye can travel over the surface in a way parallel to the way it moves over nature. It should feel caressed and soothed, experience frictions and ruptures, glide and drift.” In KA IV the lustrous swathes of blues are interjected by warm accents of yellow and red but forcefully disrupted by dominant shafts of black and white. Irregular spacing and patterning animates the canvas, pulsating with waves of light and colour that activate it with an overwhelming sensorial experience. Prolonged interaction with KA IV reveals unexpected nuances of colour auras, with stripes alternating in coming to the fore of perception. KA IV is an extraordinary and rare painting, revealing Riley’s prowess at a pivotal moment of her artistic evolution.