A radiant fugue in blushing colour, Rose Rose 12 (2011) is a jewel-like work dating from Bridget Riley’s return to one of her most important motifs: the vertical stripe. While coloured stripes had dominated her work at the start of the 1980s, for more than two decades they were sidelined as she focused on experiments in rhomboid and curvilinear form. The Rose Rose series – intimately scaled and shot through with warm, roseate tones – were the first vertical stripe paintings Riley made on revisiting the theme. They enrich her distinctive ‘Egyptian palette’ of the 1980s with the introduction of pink, coral, mauve and vermillion hues, imbuing the works with a rose-tinted glow of fond recollection. Rose Rose 12 consists of thirteen vertical bands in pink, purple, red, green and gold, with one in sky blue sounding a striking note of contrast. It is a succinct realisation of Riley’s aim to marshal zones of colour ‘so 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. Vision can be arrested, tripped up or pulled back in order to float free again. It encounters reflections, echoes and fugitive flickers which when traced evaporate. One moment there will be nothing to look at and the next second the canvas suddenly seems to refill, to be crowded with visual events’ (B. Riley, ‘The Pleasures of Sight’, in Bridget Riley, exh. cat. Tate Gallery, London, 2003, p. 214).
Since the dawn of her Op Art practice in the 1960s, Riley has been fascinated by the retinal and psychological effects of colour. By sequencing an ever-changing set of hues through a variety of geometric patterns, she seeks to explore their inherent physical energies, relishing the way in which their qualities shift and change when juxtaposed with different chromatic values. Drawing inspiration from artists such as Georges Seurat, Claude Monet, Henri Matisse, the Italian Futurists and the Abstract Expressionists, Riley views colour as both a visual and an emotional phenomenon. The stripe, arrayed in pulsing interplays of stress, nuance and counterbalance, provides a bold and precise formal structure for her explorations. ‘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). Seeing Rose Rose 12, the eye dances from hue to hue as through strafing beams of light; the stripes scintillate in serene optical chorus, singing a rhythm that gestures softly to the wonder of the world around us.