The Hammer Museum presents Bridget Riley Drawings: From the Artist’s Studio, the first and most extensive American museum exhibition dedicated exclusively to Riley’s drawings in over half a century. Organized in collaboration with the Art Institute of Chicago and the Morgan Library & Museum in New York, Bridget Riley Drawings: From the Artist’s Studio is on view at the Hammer from February 5 through May 28, 2023 and includes more than 90 sheets from Riley’s private collection. Drawings have long been part of Riley’s dynamic studio practice, and many will be seen for the first time.
“Although she is best known known for her remarkable abstract paintings, drawing is an essential aspect of Bridget Riley’s artistic practice,” Hammer director Ann Philbin said. “This is of particular interest to the Hammer, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Morgan Library & Museum, all of which have a deep commitment to collecting, exhibiting, and studying works on paper.”
The Bridget Riley drawings exhibition is curated by Cynthia Burlingham, Deputy Director of Curatorial Affairs, Hammer Museum; Jay A. Clarke, Rothman Family Curator, Prints and Drawings, Art Institute of Chicago; and Rachel Federman, associate curator, Modern and Contemporary Drawings, Morgan Library and Museum.
Riley’s early student drawings made in the 1950s drew inspiration from the human form and nature to establish the foundation for her investigation of pure abstraction. In 1960 Riley moved abruptly from making representational drawings to creating purely abstract sheets that depict meticulously composed geometric forms in black and white. Although it marked a stark departure from her early figurative and landscape work, this new direction was in fact a solution to Riley’s earlier efforts to find a pictorial structure equivalent to vision itself. These studies range from working drawings on graph paper to finished gouaches and serve to anticipate her paintings.
Bridget Riley drawings, along with a small selection of paintings, reflect what she considers an essential part of her, and any, artistic practice. She has described the process of drawing “as though there is an eye at the end of my pencil, which tries, independently of my general-purpose eye, to penetrate a kind of obscuring veil or thickness.”
In the late 1960s Riley shifted from employing exclusively black, white, and gray circles, squares, and triangles to include color in her energetic horizontal and vertical compositions. Her aim was to investigate visual perception and light effects through the adjacent placement of hues. In her stripes, whether horizontal, vertical, diagonal, or curved, Riley uses color to guide our optical sensations.
Line, in her words, is “the basis of what you might call a color vocabulary, as Seurat used the dot.” Beginning in the mid-1970s, Riley explored an expanded range of color for her stripes.
“Reviewing and selecting works from the extensive body of drawings retained in Bridget’s studio has broadened and deepened our understanding of her practice and the larger context for her art,” Burlingham, deputy director of curatorial affairs and exhibition curator for the Hammer Museum, said.