Bridget Louise Riley was born in Norwood, London on 24 April 1931. She attended Goldsmiths College and the Royal College of Art and is one of the foremost exponents of an international abstract movement known as Op Art (Optical Art) which is concerned with visual effects and illusion.
Her early work was figurative with a semi-impressionist style. She worked at an advertising agency as an illustrator where she adopted a style of painting based on the pointillist technique practised by the French post-Impressionist artist Georges Seurat whose work had a great influence on her and encouraged her towards abstract painting. Pointillism is a method of creating a picture built up of small dots of complementary and contrasting colours.
Around 1960 Riley began to develop her signature Op Art style consisting of black and white geometric patterns. Her work explored the dynamism of sight and produced a disorienting effect on the eye. She represented Great Britain at the Venice Biennale in 1968 where she was the first British contemporary painter and the first woman to be awarded an international prize for painting
Following a trip to Egypt in the early 1980s, Riley was inspired by colourful hieroglyphic decoration and she began to explore colour and contrast. Using her Egyptian palette she produced works such as the Ka and Ra series which capture the spirit of the country, ancient and modern, and the Egyptian landscape. She focused on five vital colours – brick red, ochre yellow, blue, turqouise and yellow green – and these colours would dominate her palette for the next five years in a series of paintings that consisted solely of vertical stripes.
From 1985 these stripes began to be broken up by diagonal hatching creating a sense of depth. Shadow Play, an oil on canvas painting from 1990, was typical of her later work. It displays both vertical and diagonal stripes with dark blue lozenges contrasting sharply with lighter pinks and yellows creating a sense of light and shadow.
She has also created murals and was commissioned by the Imperial College Healthcare Charity Art Collection in 2014 to produce a permanent mural for St Mary’s Hospital, London. It was her first mural for 27 years and her largest at 56 metres long. It was installed on the 10th floor of the Queen Elizabeth Queen Mother Wing.
Riley has also written about artists and curated exhibitions. Her own exhibitions have been held in many prestigious galleries including the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) New York City, Tate Britain and National Gallery. She also had an exhibition at the De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea, July-August 2015 “Bridget Riley: The Curve Paintings 1961-2014”.
“Focusing isn’t just an optical activity it is also a mental one.” Bridget Riley