‘Conscious intuition’: musings on Bridget Riley

If you are in Edinburgh before 22 September 2019, do consider visiting the Bridget Riley exhibition in the Royal Scottish Academy (part of the Royal Scottish Galleries) at the foot of the Mound. Impressive, and beautifully situated across 10 rooms, her work seems to come alive in front of your eyes – a testament to her skill, thought and experimentation with lines, shape and colour. I was mesmerised as I (almost literally) breathed them in.

One particular expression that caught my attention as I perused the descriptions and explanations throughout the exhibition was the phrase that Riley herself used to describe how she came to create her work: ‘conscious intuition’. She would work carefully at each piece, developing her design over time, thinking about, and feeling, the choice of form, structure, colour, tone, tempo and scale. Only when she was sure of its balance and impact would she commit the design to canvas or other medium, using her team of painting assistants to help her, so she could keep her mind on the overall effect and not lose herself in the operational detail. If you look really closely at some of her works in the exhibition, you can see tiny, tiny marks which indicate either where the paint has joined the surface of the work, or where two lines, or discs, or other shapes, have been carefully levelled with one another. These are barely perceptible, but evidence of a careful, thoughtful, utterly attentive artist at work.

The term ‘conscious intuition’ has been playing on my mind since I saw it in this context. It seems to me that we can conceptualise this as a process, not a state, and not limited to the world of the artist … bringing together thought and feeling, drawing on the depths of all the understandings accumulated in the self over years of experience, which have become built into our perspectives on the world, but which we must still interrogate, to rid ourselves, as best we can, of false assumptions, misinterpretations and assumed (but unnecessary) limitations.

In fact, the more I think about it, the more it excites me. I want to practise it, stretch it, extend it, test its limits … if indeed it has limits … Let us see what happens.

Conscious intuition … my words for the day.

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