Bridget Riley @ Kettle’s Yard

JESS-MIDDLETON PUGH isn’t impressed by the sickly-sweet candy colours on display at Bridget Riley’s new exhibition at Kettle’s Yard.

Art art history bridget riley colour culture Freshers jess middleton-pugh Kettle's Yard quantum physics

Colour, Stripes, Planes and Curves

Kettle’s Yard, 24th September – 20th November

Bridget Riley is best known for her monochromatic ‘Op’ art of the ’60s. Sounds cool, right? Wrong. Unfortunately, this exhibition does exactly what it says on the tin: it displays a limited and uninspiring collection of colour, stripes, planes and curves. It certainly doesn’t “throw up surprises,” as Riley intended.


The best way to look at a Riley’s work is to relax into it, to let the shapes and colours blur and merge, and to let the painting almost hallucinate around you. Upon reading that last sentence I acknowledge that the poncy nature of my degree may finally have gone to my head. But, attempting to switch off your brain is the only way to really appreciate Riley’s work. Unless you really stop thinking, you will see this exhibition it for what it really is: a series of superficial, big, bold statements of colour. Although women’s magazines tell me bold colours are very in this season, my criteria for liking, say, a jumper, is different to my criteria for liking a work of art.

The exhibition lacks development. The smell of wet paint and an eavesdropped conversation from a gallery staff member confirmed my suspicion that some of these paintings had been bashed out very recently, following a formulaic structure, with limited ‘creation’ and ‘innovation’ involved.

Two Greens and Blue’. How imaginative.

Riley’s work certainly impacts in terms of colour, but unfortunately these colours are often clashing shades of sickly-sweet candy: pinks, greens and blues arranged into stripes. This makes her paintings look a lot like wrapping paper.

In fact, this exhibition was so boring that I actually found myself getting quite excited by Lagoon 1, a painting that contained the innovative combination of both straight and curved lines! Oh Bridget, you spoil us.

Lagoon 1

It wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t mention that Bridget Riley has recently turned 80. And, maintaining a career in art for 50 years is certainly no mean feat. Having said that, based on her maturity and no doubt varied life experience, I would have liked to have seen more of that reflected in her work. Instead, I was presented with paintings that were as shallow as my understanding of Quantum Physics.

Having said all of that, if you want a break from all the Fresher’s Week rampaging, and some bright colours to make you feel like you are still high on last night’s hallucinogens, then ‘op on down to Kettle’s Yard. Just remember to take your sunglasses…