More than a decade after her last major show in
Renowned for her perfectionism, the 83-year-old artist went through three floors of
The final blow for him came towards the end of the exhibition design: Riley needed a room to hang rarely exhibited works on paper, and preparatory drawings on squared or graph paper - as pristine and immaculate as any of the canvases. Zwirner's elegant third floor office was the perfect space, so out went his desk, chair, computer, files, phones, the lot, leaving an empty square white room and the marks on the floorboards where he tends to tip his chair or pace up and down when thinking.
"It was an honour," he said firmly.
"She is so wonderful and London hasn't had an exhibition of her work in so long, I see it as a gift to the city."
Riley is still best known for her early black and white paintings, and is often called an exponent of "op art", a term coined in the 1960s when the style was borrowed by fashion designers such as
Her largest work was unveiled this year: a 56-metre mural on the 10th floor of St Mary's hospital in
All the works in the new exhibition are stripe paintings, ranging from the modestly scaled black and white of Horizontal Vibrations made in 1961, to the glowing colours of six huge new canvases completed this year.
Shiff relishes the slight irregularities he detects in the earliest paintings before she began getting studio assistants to execute her work. "But to her, using the assistants was an improvement - she didn't want to see any imperfection from the hand of the artist." Although the paintings initially seem so strict and severe,
He also sees some surprising influences of painters she admires. "You might not walk in off the street and immediately think she has been looking at the work of Renoir. But it's all there in the colour. Look at one inch of a CEzanne, and you'll find these colours." Zwirner hopes the exhibition will mark a lasting relationship between his gallery and Riley, even if that means losing his office again: "We will do whatever she asks us to do. She deserves no less."
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