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Last Updated: Monday, 30 June, 2003, 14:57 GMT 15:57 UK
Bridget Riley
Bridget Riley
Newsnight Review discussed Bridget Riley's work at the Tate Britain.

KIRSTY WARK:
Bridget Riley chose 56 pieces for this, Charles, spanning a long period ever time. Did you get the sense that she was showing how she progressed through the decades?

CHARLES SAUMAREZ SMITH:
She obviously selected the work, and I thought the whole way it was articulated in order to show the development of her career from 1961 through to the present, with each room showing one period of her career, was actually very helpful. In general, I had no sense of the amount of evolution which has gone on during her work, which superficially one knows, but it's very hard to differentiate.

KIRSTY WARK:
Did you find it a sensory experience?

CHARLES SAUMAREZ SMITH:
I found the early work is incredibly powerful. It's rather shocking, that sense of optical illusion which was very unfamiliar at that point, and it's not at all surprising that she became known at that period. But I also found it interesting seeing some of the middle career stuff, and I thought the late work which is freer and looser and goes back to Matisse, you suddenly see that someone known at one juncture in terms of "op art" actually has a very long career.

KIRSTY WARK: The movement in squares from 1961, which is a good part of this exhibition, where she does her own audio visual, she talks about the compression of the horizontal lines and a point where the pressure is so great she can do nothing else but let it out again. I thought that was a good way of putting it. Did you find that you were under pressure when you were looking at this stuff, Germaine?

GERMAINE GREER:
Very much so. I kept having to press my corneas. I felt as though they were coming unscrewed and about to fly around the room. What you are encountering is the nature of light and you are having to understand the way you see, so that even in the chromatic paintings, it's the white lines that create the vibration with the primary colour lines which send off the flare of the complementary colour. Even in black and white, at least one picture appeared to me to be blue and brown because of the vibration between the different frequencies of the stripes. But one of the questions that kept occurring to me is, how on earth did she paint them?

KIRSTY WARK: Apparently, according to Bridget Riley, the catalogue, she found no difficulty.

CHARLES SAUMAREZ SMITH:
She doesn't paint them. She gets an assistant to paint them. There she is a painter, but she has an assistant. From very early on, she used assistants. It's a detachment of the optical idea from the actual execution. It was always an idea of doing it in a very dead-pan, completely flat way, where there is no sense.

GERMAIN GREER:
I could have done with more information about that because, because Frank Stellar used masking tape and she clearly doesn't. But one of the most important things about the work, and it took me ages to work this out, is that the line is impure. The line is always a little bit wobbly. It's as much the impurities in the geometric juxtaposition of the shapes that produces the vibration. If it was done mechanically by a computer, for example, which is perfectly possible, it wouldn't work.

KIRSTY WARK:
James, did you find looking at it that your eye can't stay focused. If you try having a focal point in this, you are in trouble?

JAMES BROWN:
It was interesting, it was art that you responded to physically rather than mentally. I hope she doesn't take this personally, but medically it made me feel sick. It started off all right in the black and white, there were teeth, flags, subtlety of the changes. It ended up like bedding, to me. I didn't like the colours in the end. I noticed that everybody in the art gallery was in their 40s and up. In many ways it was a nostalgic exhibition. Some things can be so influential that they lose their power. When everyone copies it and everybody takes from it, and that was really my impression of it.

KIRSTY WARK:
And yet when you come back to what is the final room, and this is the third rendition of these big curves, and she talks about trying to focus on one circle but you can't because the next one comes through, I thought that was incredibly modern. She only did it for the exhibition, but what is says.

JAMES BROWN:
It only felt like she was getting away from being trapped. I thought when you look at the work in progress and it's art on grid paper, it's not art, it's maths. For me, it's everything that art is against.

KIRSTY WARK:
Charles, I thought one of the best things was the room with what I would call her workings.

CHARLES SAUMAREZ SMITH:
I loved that.

KIRSTY WARK:
Was it good to have that against some of the paintings, because it was amazing seeing that stuff?

CHARLES SAUMAREZ SMITH:
What Germaine says is correct, that there was not very much interpretation. I got the guide. I went round with the curator. It is very helpful being told what's going on. I found that room, which gave one a sense of what her working method is, I found deeply interesting. I found it interesting that she actually signed some of the drawings, because so much of it is ostensibly geometric, as if she is playing around with shapes and ideas, and suddenly you see a signature on it.

KIRSTY WARK:
In the later work she is working in curves and in relation to Matisse and so forth, she talks about not being able to use such fierce colours against each other because it's a more subtle, sensational, more emotional experience for her.

GERMAINE GREER:
The earlier work disrupts the picture plain and disrupts the quadrangularity of the paintings. The paintings throb against the wall, and it's exciting and yet tough to take. I realised that I wasn't emotionally ready for the resolution. I was bored. I had been over-stimulated for 40 years or 30 years by Bridget Riley, so I get to these beautiful symphonic and pastel and tertiary colours, and I was bored... I didn't like it.



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