Visiting the Courtauld is always a delight. The building is beautiful, as is their collection of art. Its size would please Goldilocks: it’s just right. However, if you are a regular visitor and are excited at experiencing their newest exhibition, Bridget Riley Learning from Seurat, and are planning on heading down there specifically then don’t bother. I’m not usually this harsh but it’s not worth your £7 entry fee just to see this exhibition.
In a small box room a few of Post-Impressionist George Seurat’s paintings sit next to some eye straining Optical art works of Riley’s. The reason? To discuss how she was influenced by his specific pointillist style where coloured dots were selectively placed alongside each other to produce intensity. The Bridge at Courbevoire 1886-87 is a good example of this. In 1959 Riley was profoundly influenced by Seurat and here you can experience how she experimented with colour and form to create visual effects. This was seen as the beginning of her journey into abstraction.
In 1962 Riley produced Tremor. She painted black and white geometric shapes extending Seurat’s initial experimentation with dots. The repetitive nature of these shapes along with a mixture of curved and straight edges creates a confusing, mind-bending effect where you see fluid ‘buried images’.
Ecclesia, 1985 Bridget Riley
The vertical bands of candy stripe colours in Ecclesia 1985 or the grey scale version Vapour 1970 are a direct reworking of Seurat’s pointillist style where Riley’s selection of colours blend to produce not just a mixing or an enhancement but a visual illusion of horizontal lines creating a 3D like effect. Seurat’s techniques produce a calming blend into a picturesque scene where Riley’s work, although interesting and experimental, is extremely difficult to look at for any length of time. She’s interested in visual effects and because of this her work is challenging.
It is always fascinating to see a process or an artist’s influences and this is no different but I was disappointed at the small scale of the exhibition. It felt like a starter and now I’m ready for my main course.
Bridget Riley – Learning from Seurat is on until 17th January 2016 at The Courtauld Gallery WC2
By Helen Shewry