In the Archive: Bridget Riley at Hayward Gallery


Monday, October 7, 2019 - 12:05

From 23 October 2019 to 26 January 2020, Hayward Gallery is hosting the largest and most comprehensive exhibition of Bridget Riley’s work to date – but it isn’t the first time that she’s had a show here. In fact, Riley’s history with the gallery extends over almost 50 years, and she’s been involved in more exhibitions at Hayward than almost any other artist. Find out more about her history with the gallery below.

Riley’s first large-scale UK solo exhibition took place at Hayward Gallery in 1971

Only three years after it opened to the public, Hayward Gallery hosted Bridget Riley’s first large-scale UK exhibition. Bridget Riley: Paintings and Drawings 1951-71 was organised by the Arts Council as part of a European tour. It featured the artist’s dazzling black-and-white works from the 1960s, as well as some of her early figurative works. The exhibition took place ten years after Riley’s first solo exhibition at Gallery One, London, and three years after she represented England at the Venice Biennale, where she won the International Prize for Painting. Riley’s Hayward Gallery story actually started the year before, however, when she took part in an exhibition called Kelpra Prints (1970), which also featured work by Peter Blake, Patrick Caulfield and Barbara Hepworth.

This image and header: Bridget Riley: Paintings and Drawings 1951-71, Hayward Gallery, 1971. Photo: John Webb


Her 1971 solo exhibition had a big impact – the press raved about it and fellow painter Francis Bacon found it truly disturbing

Robert Melville, writing for the Spectator, started his review of Riley’s 1971 solo exhibition at Hayward Gallery with the line: ‘No other painter, alive or dead, has ever made us more conscious of our eyes than Bridget Riley’. Reportedly, the first person through the doors of the exhibition was Francis Bacon. ‘I was told that on the morning the show was open to the public, the first person to enter was Francis Bacon’, recalls Riley. ‘He thought you could not disturb without the human face, and my work showed him that you could.’


Riley was the first female artist to have a full-scale exhibition at the gallery

When Riley opened her solo show at Hayward in 1971, the gallery had staged a number of large-scale solo exhibitions by artists including Henri Matisse, Antony Caro and Frank Stella, but Riley was the first female artist to have a solo show here, and the first contemporary British painter to do so, too. 


She had a second solo exhibition at Hayward Gallery in 1992

Riley’s second solo exhibition at Hayward Gallery, According to Sensation: Paintings 1982-92, focused on her recent colour paintings. It took place in the Upper Galleries, and included the artist’s now-iconic ‘rhomboid’ paintings, including High Sky (1991). Riley’s 2019 exhibition brings the number of solo shows that she’s had here to three – more than any other artist. During the 1970s, 80s and 90s, Riley also took part in a number of group exhibitions at Hayward, including the 1985 Hayward Annual, selected by Nigel Greenwood.

Poster design: Wolfgang A. Weber/Stadtgrafik Nürnberg. Photo: John Webb.


She has curated exhibitions at Hayward Gallery, too

In 2002, Riley co-curated the exhibition Paul Klee: The Nature of Creation at Hayward Gallery, along with art historian and long-term collaborator Robert Kudielka. Klee is one of a number of artists who have had a significant impact on her work. Speaking at the time of the exhibition, Riley said: ‘Paul Klee was of seminal importance to me because he showed me what abstraction meant.’

Paul Klee: The Nature of Creation, Hayward Gallery, 2002


Don’t miss the chance to see Riley’s retrospective for yourself.

Bridget Riley is at Hayward Gallery from Wednesday 23 October to Sunday 26 January.

Hayward Gallery is open 11am – 7pm every day, except Tuesdays when the gallery is closed, with late night opening on Thursdays until 9pm.

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Bridget Riley is organised by the National Galleries of Scotland in partnership with Hayward Gallery.