At David Zwirner
Nadia Connor · Bridget Riley
'For me, drawing is an inquiry, a way of finding out,' Bridget Riley wrote in the LRB in 2009. 'The first thing that I discover is that I do not know.' The Stripe Paintings at the David Zwirner Gallery (until 25 July) shows us how much we don’t know either; how fickle our perception can be.
The exhibition features more than thirty paintings and studies made between 1961 and 2014. The gallery – a stripped-back Georgian town house – was designed by Riley specifically to show the pieces. False walls create clean gallery spaces, but period features remain.
At first glance the paintings seem internally consistent and contained: each one patterned evenly from corner to corner. But then the eye begins to register the buzzing, moving regions created by optical manipulations of line and colour.
The show opens with Prairie (2003/1971), a colossal diptych in diagonal stripes. Broad violet bands are separated by narrower bands that appear orange and green or pink and blue depending on where you stand.
The paintings shift from passive to active as you perceive them, seeming to momentarily transcend the physical before returning to stillness – and the viewer to their physical awareness – before movement and light transform them again.
In Horizontal Vibration (1961), the varied widths and spacing of the lateral stripes create not only a sense of depth but also of movement and rhythm: vertical patterns seem to cut across the surface.
Riley points again and again to glitches in perception and the physical elements that give rise to them: light, colour, distance, angle; the painter’s vocabulary. Both in the titles, which often refer to phenomena in the concrete world – Prairie, Vapour – and in the large, part-veiled windows of the gallery that feature as significantly as the paintings – opening onto rusting metal fire-escapes or the illuminated road – the show gestures to the world beyond these particular illusions, to the unconscious illusions of everyday.