Firebird

Bridget Riley

Executed in 1971, the present work is Riley's first screenprint in colours and relates directly to the pivotal painting Zing 1 of the same year, a study for which was illustrated on the cover of Studio International published that summer. The issue coincided with Riley’s landmark touring European retrospective, which completed its run to great acclaim at the Hayward Gallery, London, during this period. Zing 1 featured in the exhibition, which attracted more than 40,000 visitors and earnt Riley significant critical acclaim: Robert Melville, writing in the New Statesman, claimed that ‘No painter, alive or dead, has ever made us more conscious of our eyes than Bridget Riley’ (R. Melville, ‘An Art Without Accident’, New Statesman, 23 July 1971, p. 121). The coloured stripe paintings that dominated her oeuvre between 1967 and 1974 represent the cornerstone of her optical investigations: she would return to the format in the early 1980s.

In Firebird and related studies, she began to experiment with overlapping and entwining her thin pigmented strips, creating a chromatic complexity that would find extended expression in her subsequent curve paintings. Vertical twisting bars of the three primary colours Red, Blue and Green, separated by equal areas of uncoloured space, generate a powerful, spirited and active array of imagined colours for the viewer. The eye constantly darts over the composition conjuring yellows, oranges and mauves which are the product of a diligently and brilliantly produced investigation into relative hue. Her preparatory works on paper, comprising pencil drawing with hand-mixed ribbons of gouache, provided a critical laboratory in which she calculated her increasingly daring perceptual effects.

The editions produced by Riley throughout the 1960s totalled 14 in black and white, and 4 in grey which was seemingly the bridge that she had to cross to colour. The 1970s brought 18 prints, beginning with Firebird, all in colour. As Firebird is the first print in colours in Bridget Riley's canon, it therefore occupies an important place in the history of Op Art.

The edition of 75 was originally donated to the Hayward Gallery to raise funds for the institution. Due to economies made with the quality of the paper which turned out to be overly acidic, many examples within the edition are discoloured and some have not survived.

The Arts Council of Great Britain has a copy of this work in their permanent collection.

RARE.

Artist
Bridget Riley (b.1931)
Title
Firebird
Medium
Screenprint in three colours, on wove paper
Date
1971
Sheet Size
30 1/8 x 40 in : 76.5 x 101.7 cm (the full sheet)
Edition
No. 51 from the edition of 75
Inscriptions
Signed, numbered and dated by the artist in pencil recto
Publisher
Published by the artist and donated to the Hayward Gallery, London
Printer
Printed by Kelpra Studio, London
Literature
"Bridget Riley - The Complete Prints 1962-2020", The Bridget Riley Art Foundation, Thames & Hudson, London, 2020, no. BRS 10, pp.90-91 (illus.)
Schubert 9
Exhibited
Kunstverein Göttingen 1972, Druckgraphik, no.2
Arts Council, London, 1973-74, no.75
British Council, London, 1976-78, no.39
Arts Council, London, 1980-84, no.16
21st International Biennial of Graphic Art, 1995
British Council, London, 2004-05
Arts Council, London, 2001-03
British Council, London, 2004-05
Städtische Galerie, Villingen-Schwenningen, 2013
Museum in Kulturspeicher Würzburg, 2019
Reference
A21-122
Status
No longer available

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