Bridget Riley and Piet Mondrian

Bridget Riley , Prairie , 2003/1971

Bridget Riley, Prairie, 2003/1971

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.

Piet Mondrian  Composition with Grid 8  1919

Piet Mondrian Composition with Grid 8 1919

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).

Bridget Rilet,  Apres Midi  1981

Bridget Rilet, Apres Midi 1981

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”

Bridget Riley The Stripe Paintings 1961 – 2014  David Zwirner Gallery London 13 June – 25 July 2014

Mondrian and Colour, Turner Contemporay Margate (UK) 24 May 2014 - 21 September 2014

Bridget Riley

In Red with Red (2007) the transcription of visual phenomena (leaping flames, refracted light, Arabic calligraphs) into a rigorously ordered and formal geometry is both simple and complex: the graphic immediacy and brilliant colours only slowly revealing the multiplying rhythms and complex permutations that lie within its mathematical structure. If the horizontal drift of its twisting diagonals is carefully checked by a central vertical axis, the sense of order is disturbed by the optical impact generated by the three interlocking colour fields. The cumulative effect is both rigorous and sensuous and not unlike the experience of being lost in a beautifully crafted maze. There is even the suggestion of the cursive script in the three letters of R E D being woven into the design.

While she shows us how, at a formal level, its visual dynamic resonates in the abstract structures of paintings by Raphael and Seurat , its most obvious antecedent must be Matisse’s late cutouts. More than any other image though it is the rhythmic forms and enveloping colours of his ‘Dance’ that spring to mind. Yet the perceptual language remains all hers; at once richly inventive and historically grounded, it is what makes Red with Red such a seriously good painting.

Bridget Riley:Paintings & Related Work, National Gallery, London, until 22 May 2011