Over the summer there is a rare chance to see the work of Bridget Riley and Piet Mondrian in two concentrated surveys that selectively explore their respective preoccupations with grids and stripes, as well as revealing the debt owed to one by the other. (Riley, it should be remembered, co-curated the Mondrian show at the Tate in 1996.)
Mondrian seemed (according to the curators' narrative at Turner Contemporary) to move away by stages from representing what he saw - a homeland of flat fields and sky, occasionally interrupted by vertical willow branches - towards a reductive language of line and colour built from the primary components (as he saw it) that constitute the visual field.
Riley meanwhile has steadily moved over the course of fifty years from purely optical surface arrangements in black and white back towards a more variegated and sensual engagement with the natural world of light and color. The hard white stripes of her work from the early 1960s steadily soften over time into panels of air and light, rhythmically punctuating the finely calibrated bands of colored pigment in ways that variously distil the sensation of bright heat or a cool morning (in Rise, Late Morning and Apres Midi for example).
The diagonal bands in her largest piece here, Prairie (above), read like an aerial view of an endless expanse of cultivated ground, echoing the moment when Mondrian finally freed himself from the horizon to move over the chequer board pattern of fields beneath and which would eventually allow his spare colour grids to float free of their representative beginnings. But what both painters share above all, beyond the formal rigor of their work, and despite the differing trajectory of their journeys over time, is a closeness to the experience of nature, what Riley describes as “the dynamism of visual forces - an event rather than an appearance”