SWIMMING THROUGH A DIAMOND – CORNWALL AND BRIDGET RILEY

Bridget Riley is a star of modern art, and although I saw her exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in London in November, it was the visit to Cornwall to swim with Susie that brought her to mind. Riley has studios in Vaucluse, London and Cornwall, each for different purposes. The light in Cornwall and the South of France is fantastic in different ways. I don’t know if she still swims; all three locations lend themselves to swimming, in different ways, Cornwall mostly for the ocean, Vaucluse has a number of rivers, and London has the Hampstead Ponds and it’s lidos. I don’t think she is a member of the Serpentine swimming club. Riley is influenced by the painting of Seurat, and Seurat loved painting the water, and painted ‘The Bathers’ now at the National Gallery in London. While it is fun to speculate about Riley’s commitment to swimming now , she is on record as having been a swimmer in her teens, when, during World War Two she was evacuated to a cottage near Padstow, Cornwall. In 1984 she wrote an article her Vogue magazine “On Swimming Through a Diamond” an account of her childhood in Cornwall. She wrote of bathing in the sea: "swimming through the oval, sauce-like reflections, dipping and flashing on the sea surface” she “…traced the colours back to the origins of the reflections”, Some from the sky, some from golden-greens of vegetation growing on the cliffs, some from the red-orange of sea-weed on the blues and violets of nearby rocks, and “all between, the actual hues of of the water, according to its various depths and over what it was passing”. Swimming in Cornwall can be very much like that – I was there for a weekend, and envy the people I met, those swimmer who year-round see the colours changing and flowing from moment to moment and across the seasons, sometimes dull, grey, raining, often bright and coloured and sometimes a flash of brilliance. A flash of brilliance in the Penzance ocean on the Saturday of my visit – the rainbow from nowhere – is in my mind’s eye, and will be in my memory forever. For Bridget Riley – “On a fine day… …all was bespattered with the glitter of bright sunlight and its tiny pinpoints of virtually black shadow – it was as though one was swimming through a diamond”. The Battery Belles and Bouys, The Salty Sisters and Briny Brothers must surely have their diamond-days, and I long to share one with them before I die.


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