Bridget Riley

Facts about artist Bridget Riley

  • Name: Bridget Louise Riley
  • Born: 24 April 1931 in Norwood, South London, England
  • Op art or Optical art painter and foremost exponent of the 1960’s Op art movement.
  • Educated at Cheltenham Ladies' College.
  • Studied art at Goldsmiths College (1949–52)
  • Graduated with a BA degree from the Royal College of Art (1952–55)
  • Fellow students at the Royal College of Art included artists Peter Blake, Geoffrey Harcourt and Frank Auerbach.
  • In 1962, Riley was given her first solo exhibition, by Victor Musgrave of Studio One in London.

Bridget Riley was born in 1931 at Norwood, London, the daughter of a businessman. Her childhood was spent in Cornwall and Lincolnshire. She studied at Goldsmiths College from 1949 to 1952, and at the Royal College of Art from 1952 to 1955. Riley has exhibited widely since her first solo show in 1962. Among numerous exhibitions, she was included in the 1968 Venice Biennial where she won the International Prize for painting.

Riley began painting figure subjects in a semi-impressionist manner, then changed to the Neo-Impressionist technique of Pointillism around 1958, mainly producing landscapes. The same year she was deeply impressed by the large Jackson Pollock exhibition at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London.
In 1960, working initially in black and white, she evolved a style in which she explored the dynamic effects of optical phenomena. These so-called 'Op-art' pieces, such as "Fall", 1963, produce a disorienting physical effect on the eye. Riley taught children for two years before joining the Loughborough School of Art, where she initiated a basic design course in 1959. She then taught at Hornsey School of Art, and from 1962 at Croydon School of Art. She worked for the J. Walter Thompson Group advertising agency from 1960, but gave up teaching and advertising agency work in 1963-4.

After a major retrospective in the early Seventies, Riley began to travel extensively. Up until early 1980 she had been working on her 'curve' paintings, but these came to an end after a particularly inspiring sojourn in Egypt. Her extensive exploration of color and contrast began after this. In 1983 she designed a mural made up of soothing bands of blue, pink, white and yellow for the Royal Liverpool Hospital. In the same year, she made her first set for the ballet 'Color Moves' first performed at the Edinburgh Festival in 1983. Three years later she met the postmodern 'Simulationist' painters Philip Taaffe and Ross Bleckner, and was inspired to introduce a diagonal element to her work, thus adding another dimension to her fascination with the juxtaposition of colors.

Bridget Riley is one of Britain's best-known artists. Since the mid-1960s she has been celebrated for her distinctive, optically vibrant paintings which actively engage the viewer's sensations and perceptions, producing visual experiences that are complex and challenging, subtle and arresting. Riley is acclaimed as one of the finest exponents of Op Art, with her subtle variations in size, shape and position of blocks within the overall pattern. Her work is characterized by its intensity and it's often disorientating effect. Indeed the term 'Riley sensation' was coined to describe this effect of looking at the paintings, especially her early black and white pictures. Riley is fascinated with the act of looking and in her work aims to engage the viewer not only with the object of their gaze but also with the actual process of observation.

"For me Nature is not landscape, but the dynamism of visual forces - an event rather than an appearance - these forces can only be tackled by treating color and form as ultimate identities, freeing them from all descriptive or functional roles." Bridget Riley.

Though her work is abstract, the optical experiences obtained through viewing her work seem surprisingly familiar. During her childhood, when she lived in Cornwall, she formed an acute responsiveness to natural phenomena. In particular, the effects of light and color in the landscape. Though her mature work does not proceed from observation, it is nevertheless connected with the experience of nature. Of her paintings, she has commented: 'the eye can travel over the surface in a way parallel to the way it moves over nature. It should feel caressed and soothed, experience frictions and ruptures, glide and drift…One moment there will be nothing to look at and the next second the canvas seems to refill, to be crowded with visual events.' This parallel relation between Riley's art and nature has underpinned the development of her work, coloring the way it forms both an exploration and a celebration of a fundamental human experience: sight.

Bridget Riley: Movement in Squares, 1961 Bridget Riley
Movement in Squares, 1961
Tempera on Hardboard, 481/2x473/4 in.
Bridget Riley: Horizontal Vibration, 1961 Bridget Riley
Horizontal Vibration, 1961
Tempera on Hardboard, 171/2x551/2 in.
Bridget Riley: Kiss, 1961 Bridget Riley
Kiss, 1961
Acrylic on Linen, 48x48 in.
Bridget Riley: Blaze 1, 1962 Bridget Riley
Blaze 1, 1962
Emulsion on Hardboard, 43x43 in.
Bridget Riley: Fall, 1963 Bridget Riley
Fall, 1963
Emulsion on Hardboard, 551/2x551/4 in.
Bridget Riley: Descending, 1965 Bridget Riley
Descending, 1965
Emulsion on Hardboard, 36x36 in.
Bridget Riley: Arrest 1, 1965 Bridget Riley
Arrest 1, 1965
Emulsion on Canvas, 70x681/4 in.
Bridget Riley: Breathe, 1966 Bridget Riley
Breathe, 1966
Emulsion on Canvas, 117x82 in.
Bridget Riley: Cataract 3, 1967 Bridget Riley
Cataract 3, 1967
PVA on Canvas, 87x873/4 in.
Bridget Riley: Orient 4, 1970 Bridget Riley
Orient 4, 1970
Acrylic on Canvas, 88x127 in.

"In my earlier paintings, I wanted the space between the picture plane and the spectator to be active. It was in that space, paradoxically, the painting 'took place,'" Bridget Riley summarized with characteristic incisive clarity. "Then, little by little, and, to some extent deliberately, I made it go the other way, opening up an interior space, as it were, so that there was a layered, shallow depth. It is important that the painting can be inhabited, so that the mind's eye, or the eye's mind, can move about it credibly."

Bridget Riley: BBC Audio Interviews - Julian Spalding of the BBC
Bridget Riley: Film produced by Arts Council of Great Britain - The Roland Collection
Bridget Riley at the Tate Britain
Bridget Riley: Encyclopedic Reference - Wikipedia encyclopedia
Bridget Riley's optical art (Op Art)
Bridget Riley: Reconnaissance - Dia Art Foundation
Bridget Riley at Work in East & West London - Tate Magazine

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