‘On a fine day … all was bespattered with the glitter of bright sunlight and its tiny pinpoints of virtually black shadow – it was as though one was swimming through a diamond’
Originally held in Eric Clapton’s prestigious collection of twentieth-century art, Close By is an optically-entrancing canvas from Bridget Riley’s ground-breaking series of ‘Rhomboid’ paintings. Rendered in the largest size category deployed throughout the cycle, the work presents a hypnotic symphony of line, shape and colour: a carefully-orchestrated cascade of red, green, blue, yellow, lilac peach, black and white diagonal blocks, which merge, overlap and interlock at juddering rhythmic intervals. Executed in 1992, and included in Riley’s solo touring exhibition at the Kunsthalle Nürnberg that year, the work demonstrates the key formal and chromatic innovations that came to define her practice between 1986 and 1997. Moving away from the thin stripes that had characterised her optical investigations since the late 1960s, Riley hit upon a new structure – known colloquially in the studio as ‘zigs’ – through which to channel her visual experiments. It brought with it a new three-stage working method, which involved fracturing a two-toned ground both vertically and diagonally. Connected via four edges, rather than two, the ‘zigs’ allowed greater interaction between a wider range of colours. Riley’s so-called ‘Egyptian palette’, adopted following a trip there in the winter of 1979-80, expanded to encompass more than one hundred carefully-mixed tones, grouped into unique colour brackets for each individual painting. Robert Kudielka likens this process to that of a musician selecting a key – an observation that sheds intriguing light on the present work’s provenance. Its individual chromatic cells vibrate with a near-sonorous intensity, creating a resonant spectrum of tonal values. Other works from the series are held in museums worldwide, including November, 1990 (Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Siegen), High Sky 2, 1992 (Neues Museum, Nuremberg) and Nataraja, 1993 (Tate, London).
One of the most significant exponents of Op Art, Riley has devoted her career to exploring the retinal and psychological effects of colour. Through geometric sequencing, she has sought to tease out the physical energies inherent in different tonalities, relishing the rhythmic push-and-pull generated through juxtaposition of competing hues. Her work is informed by her readings of art history, drawing particular inspiration from artists such as Georges Seurat, Henri Matisse and Claude Monet, as well as the Italian Futurists. For Riley – as for many of her forebears – colour was not only a visual phenomenon but an emotional one, deeply connected to the rhythms of the natural world. ‘The colours are organised on the canvas so that the eye can travel over the surface in a way parallel to the way it moves over nature’, she has explained. ‘It should feel caressed and soothed, experience frictions and ruptures, glide and drift’ (B. Riley, ‘The Pleasures of Sight’, 1984, in R. Kudielka (ed.), The Eye’s Mind: Bridget Riley Collected Writings 1965-1999, London 1973, p. 33). Her early life in Cornwall was particularly instructive in this regard, and her sensory engagement with its landscapes would continue to reverberate throughout her later practice. In her essay ‘The Pleasures of Sight’, published in 1984, she recalls the joy of bathing in the sea as a child: ‘On a fine day … all was bespattered with the glitter of bright sunlight and its tiny pinpoints of virtually black shadow – it was as though one was swimming through a diamond’ (B. Riley, ‘The Pleasures of Sight’, 1984, in R. Kudielka (ed.), The Eye’s Mind: Bridget Riley Collected Writings 1965-1999, London 1973, p. 32). With its prismatic surface spiked with flashes of darkness and illumination, the present work speaks directly to this memory.