Royal Liverpool University Hospital, 1983, as wall painting, Bolt of Colour, 2017
Bridget Riley has created a new wall painting for the Chinati Foundation’s special exhibition building. The work was inaugurated as part of the October 2017 Chinati Weekend and will remain on view through 2019.
For more than fifty years Riley has pursued a rigorous, open-ended, and self-renewing inquiry into the constituent elements of abstract painting. She established her reputation in the early 1960s with visually dizzying black-and-white works and then, through a slow step-by-step process later that decade, began to explore the properties of color. Throughout her career, Riley has developed paintings through the accumulation and distribution of particular forms—vertical and horizontal stripes, circles, triangles, and rhomboids, curving bands—that move rhythmically across the surface of a painting. The works create luminous fields that seem to shimmer, blink, and glow in an indeterminate space between the viewer and the painting. Over the course of her career, Riley’s explorations of the possibilities of a given template of shapes and colors have prompted further investigations, and she often returns to colors and forms she has used earlier in order to test them in new contexts.
Riley’s first environmental wall painting was made in response to a 1979 invitation from the Royal Liverpool Hospital to conceive a work for its walls. Riley devised a scheme featuring horizontal ribbons of color, running the lengths of the hospital corridors. The palette, like that of her paintings at the time, was inspired by a 1980 trip to the pyramids and tomb paintings of ancient Egypt. Of these particular colors Riley later wrote: “The Ancient Egyptians had a fixed palette. They used the same colors—turquoise, blue, red, yellow, green, black and white—for over 3,000 years…. In each and every usage these colors appeared different but at the same time they united the appearance of the entire culture. Perhaps even more important, the precise shades of these colors had evolved under a brilliant North African light and consequently they seemed to embody the light and even reflect it back from the walls.”
Riley completed the design for the Royal Liverpool Hospital in 1983. In the years since, she has made many more wall paintings, including a work for two floors of St. Mary’s Hospital in London in 1987, with a third floor completed in 2014. In addition to these commissions, Riley has made wall works for numerous museum and gallery exhibitions and collections in the U.S., the U.K., and Europe.
Riley’s wall painting for Chinati, the artist’s largest work to date, spanned six of the eight walls of the building and revisited her “Egyptian palette,” establishing a continuity between the design for the hospital and the new work for Chinati. It was inspired in part by similarities in size and spatial orientation in the sites of each project and affinities between the brilliant light and palette the artist witnessed in Egypt and the high desert landscape in which the Chinati Foundation is situated.