Bridget Riley

DirectorDavid Thompson
One line synopsisThe work of British painter, Bridget Riley (b.1931), pioneer of Op art.

Stripes and colours. Bridget Riley preparing white surface. Three paintings. Riley at work. More paintings including some from the Blaze series (1960s). Riley’s VO: "I remember one very hot summer – it was in the south of France – … and the light was so strong, it dazzled... One lost all sense of focus. Everything seemed to disintegrate in light… It was like standing in a field of pure energy." Painting of a landscape in something resembling a Pointillist style. "What is the energy of light and how do we see it?" asks commentary over black and white paintings investigating this. "… How does a painting re-enact that experience?" Riley setting up paper. "Bridget Riley’s art is an exploration of the possibilities is vision… experiment to find out what the eye can see…"; painting. Riley in her studio, trying different colours on pieces of paper and recording what she’s done. Panels of colours in stripes and rough shapes. Commentary says the intention behind this process "… is to bring something incalculable, something unexpected into being". Riley mixing paints. Versions of the landscape. Commentary talks about such early work as "exploring the textures of space" and in which light "dissolves" the shapes of the subject into "a shimmer of colour", but says that the eye is "looking for an essential and elusive ‘something’ beyond the recording of shape and contrast and colour… which will generate its own movement solely in terms of painting, generate its own space and its own light". Film of water, flowers, hills, woods, etc. Some of Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings of water in which he analysed "the rhythm of natural forces and natural phenomena…" in "sylised patterns". Van Gogh drawings expressing the perception of those natural phenomena through a pattern of marks on paper which "generates… its own nervous energy". Copy, by Riley in 1959, of Le Pont de Courbevoie (1886-1887) by Seurat, whose ideas "became a guideline for her own". Looking at a book on Futurism: Giacomo Balla "experimenting with the optical sensation of movement"; and Umberto Boccioni "exploring the emotional consequences of kinaesthesia, the equivalence between sight and sensation…" Riley at work, tracing horizontal curves with a template; her VO saying that "rhythm and repetition are at the root of movement… by massing them and repeating them, they become more fully present"; example. She talks about the shapes needing to "breathe" to release their energy: paintings. "A rhythm that’s alive has to do with changing pace …": paintings. Illusion of movement on Breathe (1966); Riley walks past painting on display. Serif (1964); Fall (1963).Water running over furrows, swirling clouds, wind over wheatfield, moving leaves, agitated bubbles, the sort of movements which commentary says "the eye can only sense … in their passing". Paintings. Flock of starlings in flight. Paintings. Commentary says that "there is movement described and movement present but the eye is … too dazzled to see… but … feels movement…" Paintings including Descending (1965) and one from the Blaze series. Commentary asks "what is the shape of colour… what is its movement…?" Painting; test for one of the components; more paintings. Jars of colour. Riley at work, trying out colour combinations: her VO points out that "colour as light and colour as paint behave in quite different ways" and that Monet and Seurat and others showed how "to make paint behave as light does…" Paintings. "Colour does not have direction" says commentary and talks about the effects of its "energy" and its "presence in space". Commentary asks about "the kind of space" needed and how it is organised. Various colour tests, etc. Tree branches swaying. Riley’s VO says "… colour hovers somewhere halfway between the depths of distance and your eyes which see it, an illusory space…" Horizontal grey black white with thin colours inside the whites. Riley being helped to bring up a large painting over her front porch. Her VO continues, "The painting is an invented space…independent of nature, but relying on the same methods of perception by which one experiences nature…" and goes on to talk about binocular vision and different focuses. Paintings. "Colours are absolutely interdependent", she says over panels of stripes in toning colours, and have to be thought of "in groups, in clusters, in relationships". VO ("… can throw something off the canvas between you and the painted surface…") continues over her manipulating pieces of coloured paper; paintings. "What is literally on the canvas is not all you see: it’s only the springboard which makes you see more...".

Flowers in windowbox. Riley and assistants; her VO says that interactions must be tried out. She draws curves with a template, her helpers paint. Her VO says that she uses two or three – recently five – colours chosen according to principles of contrast, harmony, etc.; she describes how these change as she progresses; she says that the way a colour will work depends on its size which means that "complete colour trials to determine the exact size of a painting are the most important studies before anything can be committed to canvas". Painting. Riley and assistant painting large vertical undulations; her VO describes the elements and structure of a painting which will "carry a particular conception of light and colour" She talks of building "a kind of web … in which one can blend and weave the colours together... ". Flowers; water. Riley VO reads Proust on colour, from a description of what she believes must be Monet’s water garden at Giverny; illustrations showing some of Monet’s water-lily paintings. Water, trees, grasses. Paintings. Riley at work. "The invented space … of the artist creates its own world and its own experience…", parallel to the real world and "above all, dependent on it". A painting must "offer an experience, offer a possibility". Riley with papers; paintings. Plain colours. Paintings. "Looking is a pleasure, a continual surprise…" Painting. "The activity of looking helps us to be more truthfully aware of the condition of being alive." Credits over film of Riley painting white surface; Riley with her helpers; paintings. BRIDGET RILEY.

Production companyBalfour Films
Running time27 minutes
Full credits

We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of the following:
The Royal Library, Windsor Castle,
The Solomon R.Guggenheim Museum, New York,
Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna, Milan,
The Rowan Gallery, London,
Galerie Beyeler, Basle,
Mrs. Barnet Malbin, New York,
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds,
The British Council.
With Bridget Riley in the studio: Vicky Hawkins,
Stephen Selwyn,
Phillip Ward.
Photographed by A. A. Englander,
Additional material by T. O. Darke,
Elsa Stansfield;
Edited by Roy Ayton;
Written and Directed by David Thompson.
Made by Balfour Films, London.
Arts Council of Great Britain © 1979.

Film segmentBridget Riley - ACE083.2
Bridget Riley - ACE083.3
Bridget Riley - ACE083.4
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