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For the boxer, see Bridgett Riley.
Bridget Louise Riley
Movement in Squares, 1961.
Birth name Bridget Louise Riley
Born April 24, 1931 (1931-04-24) (age 78)
London, England, United Kingdom
Nationality British
Field painting, drawing and sculpture
Training Goldsmiths College, Royal College of Art
Movement optical art

Bridget Louise Riley CH CBE (born April 24, 1931 in Norwood, London) is an English painter who is one of the foremost proponents of op art.[1]


Early life

Bridget Riley was born in London and spent her childhood in Cornwall and Lincolnshire. She was educated at Cheltenham Ladies' College. She studied art first at Goldsmiths College (1949–1952), and later at the Royal College of Art (1952–1955), where her fellow students included artists Peter Blake and Frank Auerbach. Her early work was figurative with a semi-impressionist style. Around 1960 she began to develop her signature Op Art style consisting of black and white geometric patterns that explore the dynamism of sight and produce a disorienting effect on the eye.

During her early career, Riley worked as an art teacher at the Loughborough School of Art in 1959, then at the Hornsey School of Art, and from 1962-1964 at the Croydon School of Art. She also worked as an illustrator for the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency prior to giving it up in 1964.[1]

Riley lived and worked with fellow Op Artist Peter Sedgley during the latter half of the 1960s. Together they created the artists' organization SPACE, with the goal of providing artists large and affordable studio space.[2]


Riley's mature style, developed during the 1960s, was influenced by a number of sources.[3]

Cataract 3, 1967.

It was during this time that Riley began to paint the black and white works for which she is well known. They present a great variety of geometric forms that produce sensations of movement or colour. In the early 1960s, her works were said to induce sensations in viewers as varied as seasickness and sky diving. Works in this style comprised her first solo show in London in 1962 at Gallery One run by Victor Musgrave, as well as numerous subsequent shows. Visually, these works relate to many concerns of the period: a perceived need for audience participation (this relates them to the Happenings, for which the period is famous), challenges to the notion of the mind-body duality which led some people to experiment with hallucinogenic drugs (see Aldous Huxley's writings); concerns with a tension between a scientific future which might be very beneficial or might lead to a nuclear war; and fears about the loss of genuine individual experience in a Brave New World.[4]

Shadow Play, 1990.

International career

In 1965, Riley exhibited in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City show, The Responsive Eye (created by curator William C. Seitz); the exhibition which first drew worldwide attention to her work and the Op Art movement. Her painting Current, 1964, was reproduced on the cover of the show's catalogue. Riley became disillusioned with Op because her work was exploited for commercial purposes.

Riley began investigating colour in 1967, the year in which she produced her first stripe painting.[5] Following a major retrospective in the early 1970s, Riley began travelling extensively. After a trip to Egypt in the early 1980s, where she was inspired by colourful hieroglyphic decoration, Riley began to explore colour and contrast.[citation needed] In some works, lines of colour are used to created a shimmering effect, while in others the canvas is filled with tessellating patterns. Typical of these later colourful works is Shadow Play.

In 1968 Riley represented Great Britain in the Venice Biennale. She was the first British contemporary painter, and the first woman, to be awarded the prestigious International Prize for painting.[5]

In many works since this period, Riley has employed others to paint the pieces, while she concentrates on the actual design of her work[citation needed].

The tasks and duties of an artist

Riley made the following statement about the nature of artistic work, in her lecture 'Painting Now':

'When Samuel Beckett was a young name in the early Thirties and trying to find a basis from which he could develop, he wrote an essay known as Beckett/Proust in which he examined Proust's views of creative work; and he quotes Proust's artistic credo as declared in Time Regained - "the tasks and duties of a writer [not an artist, a writer] are those of a translator". This could also be said of a composer, a painter or anyone practising an artistic metier. An artist is someone with a text which he or she wants to decipher.
'Beckett interprets Proust as being convinced that such a text cannot be created or invented but only discovered within the artist himself, and that it is, as it were, almost a law of his own nature. It is his most precious possession, and, as Proust explains, the source of his innermost happiness. However, as can be seen from the practice of the great artists, although the text may be strong and durable and able to support a lifetime's work, it cannot be taken for granted and there is no guarantee of permanent possession. It may be mislaid or even lost, and retrieval is very difficult. It may lie dormant and be discovered late in life after a long struggle, as with Mondrian or Proust himself. Why it should be that some people have this sort of text while others do not, and what 'meaning' it has, is not something which lends itself to argument. Nor is it up to the artist to decide how important it is, or what value it has for other people. To ascertain this is perhaps beyond even the capacities of his own time.'

(NB. Riley is using 'text' here to mean not only written documents, but any phenomena subject to interpretation, such as experiences or perceptions)

From: 'Painting Now', 23rd William Townsend Memorial Lecture, given by Bridget Riley CBE at Slade School of Art, London, 29 November 1996, quoted in article 'A plea for Painting', by Michael Bracewell, The Guardian Weekend 15 March 1997

External links




Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Bridget Louise Riley, CH, CBE (born 1931-04-24 in Norwood, London) is an English painter who is one of the foremost proponents of Op art, which exploits the fallibility of the human eye.


  • For me nature is not a landscape, but the dynamism of visual forces - an event rather than an appearance.
    • Quoted in Karl Ruhrberg et al., Art of the 20th Century (2000), p. 344.

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