Lee on Op Art and stroboscopic psychedelia

Stand in front of Bridget Riley’s painting of this title from 1964, and ask yourself, “What do I see?” Or rather, think to yourself, “How do I feel?” It is a picture that plays with the terms of seeing and feeling, of eye and body, as starkly as it is rendered in black and white. Yet just as black and white admits to a vast range of grays in between, so too does Riley’s work beg similar questions of value and scale. To what extent do we see this painting? In what lies its retinal appeal? To what extent do we not so much see it but feel it, experience the picture less as an abstraction than as a woozy sense of gravity visited on the body—a body endlessly subjected to the vagaries of time? Stand a little longer, look a little harder, and then what happens? In time, the surface begins to flicker, like a stroboscope; or wave, like a lenticular screen. Look longer still, and surprising colors—psychedelic phantoms—emanate from between the lines. Spangles of gold, pink, and green burst and flash, lining the eyelids, rattling the skull. The eye is enervated while the body feels something else: nausea, perhaps, or even a blinding headache. (p. 155)

Lee, P. M. (2004). Chronophobia. On time in the art of the 1960’s, Cambridge.

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