David Zwirner Gallery, London
In her new show Recent Paintings 2014-2017, the great shapeshifter rediscovers the hallucinogenic power of her youth, with dizzying works that turn perspective inside out
To walk into Bridget Riley’s exhibition of new works – everything here, with a couple of exceptions, has been created in the last four years – is to see a mighty brain fizzing away with ideas that blow away all the sentimental cobwebs from art. Riley is a philosopher who is interested in perception – and nothing else. For her, a work of art is not a picture nor a political comment nor a splurge of self-expression. It is a way to explore seeing. If it does not leave you with your sense of the visible world shaken and reborn, what’s the point of it?
In the early 1960s, she took on the epic sweep of American art and gave it a sharp scientific twist. Jackson Pollock’s paintings absorb the beholder in poetic tangles and forests of colour. Riley liked the scope and sweep, yet she put it all in a more solid psychological basis. The curves and eddies, twists and vortices of her early black and white paintings such as Hesitate (1964) are mathematically calculated. Their discombobulating effects are precisely planned. They turn perception inside out as you find spaces move and melt, shapes materialise in front of the canvas, reality itself burst open to reveal new dimensions. In the decade of psychedelia, Riley invented a legal hallucinogenic.