Painted in 1971, and held in the same private collection since that year, Zing 2 is a rare work that occupies a pivotal position in Bridget Riley’s practice. Last seen publically shortly after its creation, it captures a moment of chromatic and formal experimentation within the celebrated body of stripe paintings that came to define her oeuvre between 1967 and 1974. In these works, Riley explored the perceptual properties of colour, juxtaposing a variety of tones in thin linear ribbons in a bid to explore their interactions. In Zing 2, and its companion Zing 1, the artist introduced a new element to her investigations by entwining bands of alternating colour within each strip, anticipating the so-called ‘curve’ paintings she would begin later that decade. Here, red, blue and green snake around one another within single ribbons, interspersed by plain stripes of white. Optical magic ensues in the space between, yielding a luminous spectrum of pinks, purples and turquoises. The artist created a similar work for the cover of Studio International that year, published to coincide with her first touring retrospective which concluded at the Hayward Gallery, London, to rapturous critical acclaim. Another work using the same technique, Firebird (1971), was published on the exhibition’s poster.
No painter, alive or dead, has ever made us more conscious of our eyes than Bridget Riley”
While Riley’s titles are rarely descriptive, the word ‘zing’ nonetheless has something of an onomatopoeic resonance in relation to her practice. As a child growing up in Cornwall, she spent days observing the sparkling dance of light and colour upon the water and landscape, watching the way that tonalities mingled and morphed amid the ever-changing shadows. Later, as an art student, she scrutinised the works of her forebears, studying the interplay of colour, form and space in paintings by the Old Masters, the Impressionists, the Futurists and—most notably—the Pointillists. Central to her outlook was an appreciation of colour’s visceral, emotive properties: its smoothness, its roughness, its glare. In her own paintings, Riley sought to organise her hues in such a way ‘that the eye can travel over the surface in a way parallel to the way it moves over nature. It should feel caressed and soothed, experience frictions and ruptures, glide and drift … It encounters reflections, echoes and fugitive flickers which when traced evaporate’ (B. Riley, ‘The Pleasures of Sight’, in Bridget Riley, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London 2003, p. 214). ‘Zing’ seems to capture something of this experience, conjuring the moment of alchemical ignition that defines the act of seeing.
The pleasures of sight have one characteristic in common—they take you by surprise. They are sudden, swift and unexpected”
The stripe was, from the outset, one of Riley’s most important forms. Following her embrace of colour in 1967, it came to dominate her oeuvre for the best part of a decade, returning during the 1980s with the onset of her so-called ‘Egyptian’ palette and later in 2011 with her Rose Rose series. ‘In the straight line’, she has said, ‘I had one of the most fundamental forms. The line has direction and length, it lends itself to simple repetition and by its regularity it simultaneously supports and counteracts the fugitive, fleeting character of colour. Although Seurat’s dot is comparable in its simplicity, my line has fractionally more going for it’ (B. Riley, ‘Work’, in Bridget Riley: Flashback, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London 2009, p. 17). The ‘curve’ paintings, begun later that decade, would push these enquiries to complex new heights, bending the stripe into rippling, undulating formations that seemed to push Riley’s colours into three dimensions. In the present work, the artist begins to anticipate this move: the vertical stripe seems to dissolve in the complex entwinement of hues, causing prisms of colour to bloom outwards in billowing, amorphous clouds.
Lot Essay Header Image: The present lot (detail).