Bridget Riley has created a new mural for St Mary’s Hospital, London. The 56-metre long mural is painted directly onto the hospital walls, and the saturated colours and flowing, rhythmic stripes bring vibrancy to the clinical environment, transforming the experience of the space in the hospital, for patients, staff and visitors. The work was commissioned by Imperial College Healthcare Charity Art Collection for the 10th floor of the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother building of St Mary’s, and joins two others for the 8th and 9th floors completed by Bridget Riley for the hospital in 1987commissioned by the architect John Weeks.
The murals take inspiration from a visit she made to Egypt in the early 1980s, and echo the fixed colour palettes and decorative style of architectural painting used by the ancient Egyptians. For 3000 years they drew from only seven colours – turquoise, blue, red, yellow, green, black and white – bright, flat colours that give light and create a strong sense of visual unity. Riley has described how creating a decoration, rather than a painting, requires a more passive rhythm and arrangement of colour and lines, anticipating the movement of a person walking through a building space and absorbing the design, rather than looking directly at a canvas. Bridget Riley has created wall paintings for art galleries including Tate, the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris and the National Gallery, London.
“This new hospital commission which I am so delighted to have been given does not have quite the same objectives as my other wall works- those are composed or drawn for specific sites /or walls of a particular dimension where they will be seen and looked at in a way that is very much part of my intention. The hospital corridors are different, they embrace the whole space: they aim to lift the spirits and to remind one of life outside the hospital, while in no way interfering with the essential activities of the hospital as it goes about its business.
They also have my work in a unit called the Trauma Unit. This means a lot to me because the doctors and nurses want it and it reminds patients that theirs is a transitory state, that they are there to recover and re-join life – that life goes on, and life is outside-and they feel reassured.
In each of the three hospital corridors the colours and their organisation provide an undemanding presence to which no one needs to pay any direct attention and which can support any number of notices, directions and fire extinguishers. “ Bridget Riley
St Mary’s Hospital Paddington first opened its doors to patients in 1851, the last of the great voluntary hospitals to be founded. As the UK’s first academic health science centre, it is now part of the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, and its Medical School, alongside Charing Cross and Westminster Medical School and Imperial College London, is part of Imperial College School of Medicine.
Imperial College Healthcare Charity Art Collection: From time to time Imperial College Healthcare Charity Art Collection commissions artists to create conceptually and physically integrated site specific art works to enhance the healing environment. Notable others commissions at St Mary’s include Julian Opie’s Lindo Wing installation, and Ron Haselden’s light sculpture. Part of Imperial College Healthcare Charity, an independent charity that raises money for the five London hospitals that make up Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, it manages more than 1,600 works of art on display across five sites.
Photo: Peter Cook. © Bridget Riley / Imperial College Healthcare Charity Art Collection.