Bridget Riley, Intervals 2

We are delighted to welcome Bridget Riley’s beautiful and contemplative painting Intervals 2 into the national collection. This wonderful work was given to the nation by the artist in 2020 – we thank Bridget Riley very warmly for her generosity.

A meditation on colour and rhythm, Intervals 2 continues Bridget Riley’s sixty-year exploration of sensation and how we see. Riley's paintings are not figurative or representative, yet the artist is a great observer of the natural world. She has an acute awareness of the effects of natural phenomenon – whether the shimmer of light on water, dappled sunlight through trees, or deep shadows across a landscape. Riley’s abstract paintings suggest the experience of these fleeting moments. Her works release light, convey movement and produce vibrations.

Bridget Riley, Intervals 2, 2019, oil on canvas, 198 x 145.2cm. National Galleries of Scotland. Gift of the artist, 2020. GMA 5723. © Bridget Riley, 2020

In Intervals 2 Riley returned to the stripe, a form she has used regularly since 1967. Five blocks of coloured stripes in purple, orange, green and turquoise are pitched against white bands – creating the intervals of the title – and surrounded by a white border. In Riley’s hands, white is always an active, carefully mixed tone and here, the white is every bit as important as the colours. At times, these bold white bands seem to take centre stage, while at others, the focus shifts and the coloured stripes appear to hover independently. Riley’s use of different arrangements of the four colours determines the pace of looking and our experience of the whole work – she exploits contrasts (e.g. between green and orange) and the variable nature of colour.

This attention to the speed and inner dynamic of a painting, coupled with the artist’s engagement with abstraction, has often led Riley’s works to be described in relation to music, the most abstract of art forms. An ‘interval’ in musical terms refers to the distance between two tones or notes, either played together or in sequence. Intervals 2 is abundant with visual rhythms and a sense of upwards movement, like a rising musical scale.

Bridget Riley, Intervals 2, 2019 on display alongside Measure for Measure 36, 2019, acrylic on canvas (Private Collection) in the exhibition Bridget Riley, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, 15 June – 22 September 2019. Photography: National Galleries of Scotland. © Bridget Riley, 2019

This work is the second in a group of Intervals paintings that Riley began in 2018. In developing these new works, Riley drew upon a palette of three muted colours – purple, orange, green – which she had been exploring in an extensive series of disc paintings, collectively known under the title Measure for Measure (which includes the monumental wall painting, Messengers, 2019, installed at the National Gallery in London).

Georges Seurat, La Luzerne, Saint-Denis, 1884-85, oil on canvas, 65.30 x 81.30 cm National Galleries of Scotland. Purchased with the aid of the Art Fund, a Treasury Grant and the family of Roger Fry 1973.

The Measure for Measure and Intervals paintings reflect Riley’s ongoing fascination with perception – the process by which we experience and see the world around us. This interest was originally developed through her close analysis of the work of French painter Georges Seurat. His small, compelling painting La Luzerne, Saint Denis, 1884-85 (now held in National Galleries of Scotland’s collection) left a particular impression on Riley during the late 1950s, and Seurat’s work remains an important touchstone for Riley to this day.

This connection with our historic collection adds to the already special nature of Bridget Riley’s generous gift of Intervals 2. The painting was displayed for the first time at National Galleries of Scotland in the artist’s survey exhibition in the summer of 2019. Having seen the first painting from the series in Riley’s studio in December 2018, it was a thrill to be able to include Intervals 2 in the show, demonstrating the new avenues Riley had begun to investigate at that time. More than a year on, and amid the challenges presented by the Coronavirus pandemic, the gift of this luminous painting is a moment for celebration.

Bridget Riley | In Conversation with Sir John Leighton

In this video produced in 2019, artist Bridget Riley and Sir John Leighton (Director General of the National Galleries of Scotland) discuss Riley's acclaimed work and career.

By Lucy Askew, Chief Curator, Modern and Contemporary Art , 23 December 2020