Riley established her reputation with black and white paintings but reintroduced colour to her canvases in 1967, using the format of thin vertical bands. 'In my recent colour work', she explained in April 1972:
I have been using stripes, either parallel or twisting around each other, because they are unassertive forms. Form and colour seem to be fundamentally incompatible-they destroy each other . . . colour energies need a virtually neutral vehicle to develop uninhibited. The repeated stripe seems to meet these conditions.1
The title of the painting refers to the gamelan, an Indonesian musical instrument. The name is also used for the orchestra in which the instrument is played. The resemblance of the bars of colour to the musical instrument is likely to have prompted the choice of title, reinforced by the analogy between the colour-induced rhythms across the composition and the sound of the gamelan.2 In a number of publications the spelling of the title has varied, and although inscribed on the reverse 'Gamalin', the artist has advised the Gallery that she wishes the title to be spelt 'Gamelan'.3
Riley's paintings are worked out through numerous preliminary drawings, and five such studies exist for this painting, including one in the Gallery's collection. The remaining four studies are recorded as: Study for gamelan 1968 (gouache on paper, 68.0 x 156.0 cm, collection Gene Baro, London); Study 68 gamelan sequence 1968 (gouache on paper, present whereabouts unknown); Study for gamelan 1969 (gouache on paper, 69.0 x 157.5 cm, collection of the artist); Green surrounded by violet and orange 1969 (gouache on paper, 73.0 x201.3 cm, collection Lex Aitkin, London).
The Gallery also owns two later paintings by Bridget Riley: Veld 1971 and Reef 1976.
Michael Lloyd & Michael Desmond European and American Paintings and Sculptures 1870-1970 in the Australian National Gallery 1992 p.424.
- Bridget Riley: Paintings and Drawings 1961-1973, London: Arts Council of Great Britain, 1973 (exhibition catalogue), p.10
- ibid., p.10.
- Bridget Riley, correspondence with the Gallery, 4 February 1982.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010