Bridget Riley’s show Flashback is at the Water Hall in Birmingham at the moment; it opened on February 6th and continues until May 23rd when it travels to Norwich and then on to Southampton. I went to see it yesterday and somewhat relevantly had a flashback of my own to seeing the first exhibition that really made an impact on me – the artist was again Bridget Riley and the location was again Birmingham.
Aged 17 I took a train to Birmingham to see According to Sensation at the Ikon Gallery – 1992. This was my first major contemporary show. The Ikon (in its old incarnation on John Bright Street) was my first experience of a modern art gallery; a huge white space, everything cleanly hung, no extraneous detail. I still have the catalogue from that show – though typically can’t find it – as well as catalogues from her show at DIA in New York (2000), the Serpentine (1999) and Tate (2003) -and typically the memory of that Ikon catalogue has stuck with me as well. I remember reading at the time that she was talking at the Ikon and missed my chance to take another trip to hear her talk – rural Warwickshire to Birmingham being slightly more difficult to facilitate on a school evening than on a weekend.
The work that stood out for me yesterday was Late Morning (1967/8); a huge canvas of red, green, blue and white stripes. Riley writes in the catalogue for the show that it was with this painting that she began to “draw with colour”. She goes on to explain that “The blue to bright green movement is the form”. In another essay in the catalogue Michael Bracewell writes of this same painting that “the effect of the work is at once immediate and inscrutable, allowing no single point upon the painting’s vertiginous surface where the gaze can be drawn to rest and take bearings”.
There’s no point reproducing images of her work here; there are few other artists whose work benefits from being present with them as Riley.