Bridget Riley at the Hayward

An optical eye sore in a good way…Bridget Riley’s illusions are celebrated in this significant and impressive retrospect.

Visiting this show on a Friday night after a long week at work is not something I would recommend. Only fresh eyes can withstand the optical and rythmic paintings of Bridget Riley. This retrospective gives us a powerful look at the works she’s produced over the last 70 years. Who’d have thought simple line and colour could pack such a punch?!


Her subject matter has always been about perception, so what might merely be line and colour becomes something else in the making – by really looking do we discover new ways of seeing. As well as juxtaposing line and colour and how they interact, she also produced her iconic black and white paintings in the 60’s, which are very psychadelic. This simple palette allowed her the freedom to experiment with line and shape, and stretch the boundaries of seeing. Sometimes, it felt like a mental test of shere willpower to see how long I could survive looking at her paintings without passing out or going blind!


What was most interesting in the show (and a nice breather from her energetic work) was the connection made to the artists’ that inspired her. She found inspiration particularly from French painter Georges Seurat, and made a study of Seurat’s painting The Bridge at Courbevoie.

Speaking of the impact that Seurat, as well as other artists including Henri Matisse and Paul Klee, had on this early stage of her career, Riley states: ‘I believed – and in fact still believe – that looking carefully at paintings is the best training you can have as a young painter.’*

Her rarely-seen drawings and studies of paintings gave a fresh perspective to how Riley works, and how her ideas and methods expanded onto the canvases.

With all her work, there is a kinetic energy. It hopelessly draws you in.  Stand and stare long enough and you might just get lost in the slow, rumbling vibrations of her hallucinatory landscapes.

Bridget Riley is on at the Hayward Gallery until 26 January.

*Quote taken from ‘Five things to know about Bridget Riley’ by Southbank Centre

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