For me, drawing is an inquiry, a way of finding out – the first thing that I discover is that I do not know. This is alarming even to the point of momentary panic. Only experience reassures me that this encounter with my own ignorance – with the unknown – is my chosen and particular task, and provided I can make the required effort the rewards may reach the unimaginable. It is as though there is an eye at the end of my pencil, which tries, independently of my personal general-purpose eye, to penetrate a kind of obscuring veil or thickness. To break down this thickness, this deadening opacity, to elicit some particle of clarity or insight, is what I want to do.
The strange thing is that the information I am looking for is, of course, there all the time and as present to one’s naked eye, so to speak, as it ever will be. But to get the essentials down there on my sheet of paper so that I can recover and see again what I have just seen, that is what I have to push towards. What it amounts to is that while drawing I am watching and simultaneously recording myself looking, discovering things that on the one hand are staring me in the face and on the other I have not yet really seen. It is this effort ‘to clarify’ that makes drawing particularly useful and it is in this way that I assimilate experience and find new ground.
This practice is rooted in my experience of drawing from the nude and from nature. But I found it could be moved across surprisingly easily to the elements of abstract painting, centring as it does on inquiry and what happens down there on the paper. I have always believed that those ‘ultimate’ statements of the great protagonists of abstract art were, in fact, declarations of new radical beginnings. Would those principles and geometric forms really yield the riches dreamed of? Or would they prove a block to creative will and passion? But, in art, prohibitions and denials are always a challenge and a powerful spur to inquiry.
For the last 50 years, it has been my belief that as a modern artist you should make a contribution to the art of your time, if only a small one. When I was young, the situation was very different. Abstract painting hung like a mirage in the desert. The door had been pushed open by a small number of visionary artists – mainly Mondrian, Kandinsky, Malevich, Rodchenko. Although travelling by different routes, each had arrived at what was virtually a common core. Having discarded the figure and nature, what remained? Colour as colour itself, those simple shapes and forms that geometry and writing provided, and the material facts.
Severe limitations indeed, but did they hold the secret of a new way of working? No tried or tested criteria existed: everything that would constitute a viable art form had to be found, discovered, reinvented or recreated. It was an immense task but one that seemed essential if the implications and insights of modern art were to be pursued. The very bleakness and constraints of this uncharted land seemed to hold an attractive potential, as Stravinsky claimed in Poetics of Music: ‘My freedom will be so much the greater and more meaningful the more narrowly I limit my field of action and the more I surround myself with obstacles. Whatever diminishes constraint, diminishes strength. The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one’s self of the chains that shackle the spirit.’
But to be excited by the prospect of a great adventure is one thing, to act is another. To make a start, I had to sacrifice some hard-won achievements and joys. For instance colour, about which I had only recently gained some understanding, now had to be laid aside until an abstract form equal to its purity could be found. You cannot just paint colour: if you try to do this you inevitably end up in the trap of monochrome painting. It was seven years before I found a way of even beginning to work with colour. But first I had to make a start.
Perhaps the time I had spent drawing allowed me to trust the eye at the end of my pencil. Movement in Squares (1961) began in this way. It came at the end of a time of great difficulty for me. I had very nearly lost the studio, and even when I managed to secure it, I had no real sense of what to do there. Although I had taken a few steps in the direction of abstract painting, I had not yet arrived at a point where I could establish a dialogue. One evening on my way to the studio, I thought of drawing a square. Everyone knows what a square looks like and how to make one in geometric terms. It is a monumental, highly conceptualised form: stable and symmetrical, equal angles, equal sides. I drew the first few squares. No discoveries there. Was there anything to be found in a square? But as I drew, things began to change. Quite suddenly something was happening down there on the paper that I had not anticipated. I continued, I went on drawing; I pushed ahead, both intuitively and consciously. The squares began to lose their original form. They were taking on a new pictorial identity. I drew the whole of Movement in Squares without a pause and then, to see more clearly what was there, I painted each alternate space black. When I stepped back, I was surprised and elated by what I saw. The painting Movement in Squares came directly out of this study. My experience of working with the square was to prove crucial. Having been lately becalmed, now a strong wind filled my sails.
Movement in Squares (1961)
The way of working I had found was both new and yet familiar. If my subject had been the human figure instead of a geometric form, I would have been looking for the ways in which the balance shifted. I would have found a twist or turn, which gave life and movement. I chose other geometric forms – the circle, the triangle, the oval, the curve – and found that through drawing I could analyse and study them. What could a triangle, for example, do and, equally important, not do? I put the triangle through its paces. I treated other pictorial elements as units in a similar way. For instance, in 1962, when I tried to introduce a third colour into the Black and White paintings, I soon realised that this was impossible because there was ‘no place’ for a third colour. I had come up against a problem that would in the past have been called ‘plastic’. The structure I was working with was binary and that had to be broken down or opened up if it was going to include a third factor. I did this by ‘pacing grey’, approaching grey simply as a different kind of unit. What is grey? It lies between black and white. It can be a single, central grey, or it can move in steps or modulations of grey.
This fluidity of grey movements and its capacity to bridge the light/dark contrast allowed me to keep a door open for colour. I had to work through the Black and White paintings before I could even begin to think about possibilities of colour. There are no short cuts. I had to go step by step, testing the ground before making a move. It would be a long time before I felt ready to leave the support of the greys for full colour.
Some people thought that I gave up my Black and White structure for a far less radical approach to colour. But this was not the case; the challenge of colour had to be met on its own terms. Just as I had inquired earlier into the square and other geometric forms freed from their conceptual roles, I now felt I had to inquire into colour as another pictorial player – in many ways the least emancipated and possibly the most complex of all.
At that time, it seemed to me that form and colour were incompatible, that they destroyed one another. If I wanted to make colour a central issue, I had to give up the complexities of form with which I had been working. In the straight line I had one of the most fundamental forms. The line has direction and length, it lends itself to simple repetition and by its regularity it simultaneously supports and counteracts the fugitive, fleeting character of colour. Although Seurat’s dot is comparable in its simplicity, the line has fractionally more going for it.
My studies of the greys paved the way for the colour movement in Late Morning (1967-68). In that painting, I began in a very simple way to draw with colour. The blue to bright green movement is the form. At the core of colour lies a paradox. It is simultaneously one thing and several things – you can never see colour by itself, it is always affected by other colours. As a child one plays by lying on one’s back and filling one’s sight with the blue of the sky, only to find the blue goes slowly towards grey. Your own eye produced the after-image of yellow-orange to compensate for the intensity of the blue. Colour relationships in painting depend on the interactive character of colour; this is its essential nature. I had given up the complexity of form in my Black and White paintings, but I found that the principles that lay behind them – contrast, harmony, reversal, repetition, movement, rhythm etc – could be recast in colour and with a new freedom.
Although careful never to presume ‘to know’ what the pictorial elements would do in a particular situation, I began to feel that experience was fuelling my inquiry and that, whether I felt prepared to make some advance – or not – I had no choice but to do so. Having twisted my colour round the straight line, I looked again at the curve element and turned it into the supple twists of Song of Orpheus (1978). I drew these curves together into clustered fields spliced by diagonals.
The work became increasingly finely balanced and beyond a certain point needed firmer and more robust treatment. I returned to a broader stripe or band, but the growing complexity of the colour relationships required further changes. It is part of a painter’s work to be aware of the role that distance plays in the viewer’s experience. Ecclesia (1985) seen close up shows a particular group of painted colours. Each band has a clear identity. Step back and the colours begin to interact, further away still a field of closely modulated harmonies cut by strong contrasts opens up. I had to work simultaneously on these two levels: the physical identity of the painted colours and the visual experience of their relationship. I used cut bands of painted paper in a collage technique to adjust, change and move colours around.
This group of stripe paintings turned out to be a rich vein of colour thinking. In the end, that very richness precipitated a new approach. By making the effort to draw, I found my way. I had to lay aside the almost magical interactive power of colour that I had taken to a high level. The stripe itself went too; its limits had been reached. I needed to move the eye in different ways over the canvas.
I searched for a new form that would be unlike any I had used before: a form that did not have the familiar identity of squares, triangles, ovals etc. Eventually, I found what I was looking for in the conjunction of the vertical and the diagonal. This conjunction was the new form. It could be seen as a patch of colour – acting almost like a brush mark. When enlarged, these formal patches became coloured planes that could take up different positions in space. They could serve several functions and being contained they were also movable: could change scale, harmonise or contrast with one another, repeat, echo, ‘create places’ etc. A whole new field of relationships opened up. Together with a more extensive use of my particular collage technique, I had arrived at means broader than any that were available to me before. Now drawing with colour became central to my activity. I found I had to establish a common plane, which ran right through the composition, and from which and to which the spatial advances and recessions of colour would relate. This could not be predetermined – it had to be found afresh each time. It was essential to get across the area, to build a chain of visual events that would carry the eye through its own realm. Shimmered Shade (1990) is one of the paintings that came out of this. I had found this new way of working by taking up an opposing position. It can sometimes happen that, when confronted by what seems to be a wall, which one cannot get either through or round, a kind of radical reorientation is called for. Turning the whole thing over so that an approach can be made from the opposite side, as it were. If this is to succeed, it nearly always means relinquishing some cherished notion or something that you have relied on. This destructive side to creative life is essential to an artist’s survival.
Red with Red 1 (2007)
You cannot deal with thought directly outside practice as a painter: ‘doing’ is essential in order to find out what form your thought takes. The ‘new curves’ that I started in 1998 grew directly out of paintings such as Shimmered Shade. The latent visual arcs and sweeping movements came to the fore in Painting with Verticals 1 (2006) and Red with Red 1 (2007). Retaining the diagonals and verticals of the earlier group of paintings, I introduced a curve that connected to the existing structure. This is the underpinning of my new curvilinear work. The vertical is still there, acting like a break in the movement across the canvas. The cut collage pieces define the various contours that arise from combining and recombining the slender curve with its diagonal accents. This has developed into a layering technique that allows me to weave forms and colours together in a supple plastic space. I have reduced the number of colours and increased the scale of the imagery. Would it be possible to once again build up a repertoire of these invented forms, a repertoire that might gradually acquire sufficient momentum to put itself at risk, to precipitate its own kind of hazard? It is only through the experience of working that answers may be discovered within the inner logic of an invented reality such as the art of painting.
All pictures illustrating this article © Bridget Riley.
From SpongePedia, the First SpongeBob Wiki.
Episode Article: Procrastination
(the bell rings)
Mrs. Puff: OK, class, quiet, quiet. Now, get out your pencils and paper, and write down the assignment.
SpongeBob: Did you hear that? We get an assignment! (Nat gives an annoyed look)
Mrs. Puff: Everyone must write an essay on What Not to Do at a Stoplight.
Students: (groan again)
SpongeBob: Did you hear that? What not to do at a Stoplight. (Nat glares at him)
Mrs. Puff: In no less than 800 words. (squeals)
Students: (groan again)
Nat: (acting like SpongeBob): Did you hear that? 800 words!
SpongeBob: Yeah, I know! (Nat frowns in annoyance)
Mrs. Puff: Due tomorrow. And remember, class: work hard, and no goofing off.
(back at SpongeBob's house)
SpongeBob: OK, Gary, no goofing off. I am about to write the greatest essay of all time. Like most great essays, it will be written on paper. (Shows two pieces) Even more important than the paper is... (shows a pencil) ...the pencil. A pencil is sharp or as dull as I like. (To the pencil) Hmm.. funny thing, as my ideas grow, you shrink. Well, I couldn't have asked for a more beautiful day to write an essay. (looks at window. It's colorful outside) OK, here we go. (begins writing) "What Not to Do at a Stoplight". Hey, this is easy! "By SpongeBob SquarePants". Ha, this essay is pure gold. And now, pencil, get ready to do your stuff, because here we go!
(The clock is shown. Several hours pass)
SpongeBob: (has not written anything else) Gee, this is harder than I thought.
(SpongeBob looks outside. There is a carnival. Squidward is suntanning. A kid is eating ice cream. Jellyfish are playing tennis. Gary is playing with a ball. Patrick is rubbing Sandy with sunscreen)
Patrick: Come on, SpongeBob!
SpongeBob: It should be against the law to have to write an essay on such a super sailorific, sunshiny day. (groans) But I must press onward. Because with this pencil, and the completion of this essay, I'll be one step closer to my driver's license! (a live-action drag race is shown. A car hits a wall, tumbles, and gets back up. Cut back to SpongeBob) Oh, yeah... This'll be no problemo. Why, I've got plenty of time. It's only six o'clock! Okay, okay, here we go. Here we go. (SpongeBob struggles to write) I know! I just need to get a little blood pumpin' in the old noodle. How about some calisthenics? (does calisthenics. While doing it, he recites "Hup hoo" several times) I can feel those juices pumpin' now.
(SpongeBob moves his chair closer to the table. He does it a lot because of the fun noise it makes. He then laughs) Huh! What am I doing? I gotta write that paper. (pushes his chair in) Come on, pencil, make words.
SpongeBob: Gary! Hey, hey, hey, Gary! How's my favorite mollusk? How about you and ol' SpongeBob fix you up something to eat?
SpongeBob: What do you mean you're not hungry?
SpongeBob: I know I have an essay to write. Now, come on, Gary. (pours some food) I've got to make sure you get your nutrition, so I'm not leaving till you eat every single bite. (he takes up a ladder and fills it to ceiling-level. Gary quickly eats it) Gary, are you sure you don't want some crème brûlée? Or some choco-flavored algae bits? (sees a pile of food on the floor) Gee, Gary sure made a mess. I can't work on my essay, knowing there's a mess in the kitchen. (cleans it up) Hmm. I might as well clean the rest of the floor while I'm at it. I should get these hard-to-reach places too! And these dishes need to be cleaned! Can't have dirty garbage. (some time later, SpongeBob is finished) Well, I think it's clean enough now. (the kitchen is now chrome) Why, that didn't take too long. It's only... (checks the clock) 10:00! Oh. No more fooling around. I gotta get back to work. Okay, Mr. Essay, I say: prepare to be written! I'm doing it! (begins writing frantically in a montage) I'm doing it!... Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!... And some of these, and some of these!... Almost there and... (drops pencil) done. (sighs in relief) Now, let's see how it looks so far. The... (he has only written the word "The", in a fancy manner) Break time! Pacing always helps me think. (paces around the room) Let's see, only 799 words to go. Think, SpongeBob, think. (looks at the telephone, then at the paper, then back at the phone. Cut to Patrick in bed. His phone rings and he wakes up)
Patrick: Who's that? (picks up phone) Hello?
SpongeBob: Hey, Patrick, what are you up to?
SpongeBob: That's really fascinating. Are you having a good sleep? Any dreams you'd like to discuss? I remember on this...
Patrick: SpongeBob, you and I both know that you're just using me as a distraction so you don't have to write your essay.
SpongeBob: (gasps) That is not true! I called to have an engaging conversation with you!
Patrick: Well, I'm listening.
Patrick: Polo. (hangs up)
SpongeBob: (listening to a dial tone) Yeah, well, I gotta get going, Patrick. Got an important essay to write. (hangs up phone) Sheesh, what a chatterbox. Can't he see that I'm busy? (notices eraser shavings on his paper) I can't write with all these eraser shavings all over my paper! (throws them away) Now they're floating around my thinking space. (blows them away) So long, pesky particles! (they come back, and he chokes on one) I swallowed one! I'm choking! Water! Water! (goes to the kitchen and drinks water, then gasps in relief) That was a close one.
SpongeBob: What do you mean overly dramatic, Gary? All that choking sure made me hungry.
SpongeBob: I can't write on an empty stomach, Gary. I gotta have my brain food. (looking through his refrigerator) Now, let's see. White or rye bread...or pumpernickel? Gee, I guess it really depends on the meat inside. And the cheese. (doorbell rings) A visitor? For me? (opens the door) Hello!
Mailman: Package for Mr. SquarePants.
SpongeBob: Great! Thanks! So, you like delivering mail?
Mailman: It puts bread on the table.
SpongeBob: Rye or pumpernickel? (laughs)
Mailman: Oh, brother.
SpongeBob: So, do you deliver your own mail? Or do you have your own mailperson? But then, who delivers his mail? Is there a never-ending chain of mailmen delivering mail to other mailmen? Well, I guess a P.O. box could, in theory, break the chain.
Mailman: Don't you have a paper to write? (walks away)
SpongeBob: (gulps) How did he know I'm supposed to be writing an essay? (glances back and forth several times, then slides backward into his house, turns and tiptoes in front of the TV)
Realistic Fish Head: (speaking on the TV) In other news, local resident SpongeBob SquarePants only has a few hours left to complete his essay. And yet he continues to goof off. (his head leans through the TV screen into SpongeBob's face) When will he learn?
SpongeBob: Hi-yah! (karate chops the TV causing a zap and the glass breaks. The room has a blackout and he lights a candle)
Easy Chair: (SpongeBob turns to it) Hey! SpongeBob, over here! Come on! Take a seat! Put your feet up and relax!
(SpongeBob drops the candle on the floor and the fire on the candle goes out)
SpongeBob: (gasps, as the bell rings the clock lights up as he looks at the clock) Oh, no! Midnight! (Panting, he runs in a hallway where the wall is full of paintings of clocks in the style of "Persistence of Memory") Must... get... back to desk! (runs to the table, but it has enlarged. He jumps up) Whew, that was a close call. (notices his pants are missing and he screams) My pants!
Pants: Yoo hoo! Down here!
SpongeBob: You get up here! I gotta get back to work!
SpongeBob: (runs out the door following the pants) Stop, pants! You get back here this instant! Pants! (The door closes. SpongeBob tries to get back in, but it is locked. He looks in the window. The candle is still lit. The clock's face pops off, revealing a mouth)
Clock: (ghostly voice) Time's up, SpongeBob.
(The candle melts into a flame, Flare)
SpongeBob: (gasps) Burning!
Flare: (takes SpongeBob's essay paper) Only 799 words to go! Hehehehe! (She burns the paper and leaps off the table)
SpongeBob: No! (the inside of his house burns) AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!! What have I done? Help! Help! My house is on fire! (continues running around his burnt house, babbling incoherently, until the house comes to life)
House: SpongeBob, why? Why did you set me on fire, SpongeBob?! Why didn't you just write your essay?! Stop wasting time!
SpongeBob: (wakes up from his nightmare and takes the pencil off his face) Where's my essay! Oh, there you are! I must've dozed off. Let's see, where are we? (the paper only reads "The") Do I dare look at the clock? (looks at the clock, then gasps) It's almost 9:00! Class starts in five minutes! How am I going to write this whole paper in five minutes? How am I supposed to know what not to do at a stoplight? (realizing) Feeding your snail is something not to do at a stoplight! And... (begins writing) ...making a sandwich. And lighting candles! And drinking water! And calling your friends! And karate chopping the TV! And shooting the breeze with the mailman. And falling asleep... (cut to SpongeBob, out of breath, running to the boating school) Mrs. Puff! Mrs. Puff! I'm finished! All 800 words! I'm finished! Here it is! Mrs. Puff? (goes inside, but nobody is there) Where is everybody?
Mrs. Puff: Oh, there you are, SpongeBob.
SpongeBob: Here you go, Mrs. Puff! All 800 words! All about stoplights and what not to do at 'em.
Mrs. Puff: I'm sorry, SpongeBob. I tried to call you! I have to go to a teacher's convention.
SpongeBob: But what about my essay?
Mrs. Puff: Nah, I decided to cancel the assignment. We're just going to take a field trip to a stoplight instead. See you next week! (exits)
(SpongeBob rips his essay. He then rips himself)