Bridget Louise Riley CH CBE (born 24 April 1931) is an English painter who is one of the foremost exponents of Op art. She currently lives and works in London, Cornwall and the Vaucluse in France.
Riley was born in Norwood, London in 1931. Her grandfather was an Army officer. Her father, John Fisher Riley, originally from Yorkshire, was a printer and owned his own business. In 1938 he relocated the printing business, together with his family, to Lincolnshire.
At the beginning of World War II Riley's father was called up into the army and Bridget Riley, together with her mother and sister Sally, moved to a cottage in Cornwall. The cottage, not far from the sea near Padstow, was shared with an aunt who was a former student at Goldsmiths' College, London. Primary education came in the form of irregular talks and lectures by non-qualified or retired teachers. She attended Cheltenham Ladies' College (1946–1948) and then studied art at Goldsmiths College (1949–52), and later at the Royal College of Art (1952–55). There her fellow students included artists Peter Blake, Geoffrey Harcourt (the retired painter, also noted for his many well known chair designs) and Frank Auerbach. In 1955 Riley graduated with a BA degree.
Between 1956 and 1958 she nursed her father, who had been involved in a serious car crash. She suffered a breakdown due to the deterioration of her father's health. After this she worked in a glassware shop. She eventually joined the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency, as an illustrator, where she worked part-time until 1962. The large Whitechapel Gallery exhibition of Jackson Pollock, in the winter of 1958, was to have a major impact on her.
Her early work was figurative with a semi-impressionist style. Between 1958 and 1959 her work at the advertising agency showed her adoption of a style of painting based on the pointillisttechnique. 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 and produces movement and color. In the summer of 1960 she toured Italy with mentor Maurice de Sausmarez, and the two visited the Venice Biennale with its large exhibition of Futuristworks.
Early in her career, Riley worked as an art teacher for children from 1957–58 at the Convent of the Sacred Heart, Harrow (now known as Sacred Heart Language College). At the Convent of the Sacred Heart, she began a basic design course. Later she worked at the Loughborough School of Art (1959), Hornsey College of Art, and Croydon College of Art (1962–64).
In 1961, with partner Peter Sedgley, she visited the Vaucluse plateau in the South of France, and acquired a derelict farm which would eventually be transformed into a studio. Back in London, in the spring of 1962, Riley was given her first solo exhibition, by Victor Musgrave of Studio One.
In 1968 Riley, with Peter Sedgley and the journalist Peter Townsend, created the artists' organisation SPACE (Space Provision Artistic Cultural and Educational), with the goal of providing artists large and affordable studio space. Riley's mature style, developed during the 1960s, was influenced by a number of sources, including the French Post-Impressionist artist Georges Seurat. In 2015-6, the Courtauld Gallery, in its exhibition "Bridget Riley: Learning from Seurat", made the case for how Seurat's pointillism influenced her towards abstract painting. As a young artist in 1959, Riley saw The Bridge at Courbevoie, owned by the Courtauld, and decided to paint a copy. The resulting work has hung in Riley's studio ever since, barring its loan to the gallery for the exhibition, demonstrating in the opinion of the art critic Jonathan Jones "how crucial" Seurat was to her approach to art. Riley described her copy of Seurat's painting as a "tool", interpreted by Jones as meaning that she, like Seurat, practised art "as an optical science"; in his view, Riley "really did forge her optical style by studying Seurat", making the exhibition a real meeting of old and new. Jones notes that Riley investigated Seurat's pointillism by painting from a book illustration of Seurat's Bridge at an expanded scale to work out how his technique made use of complementary colours, and went on to create pointillist landscapes of her own, such as Pink Landscape (1960),painted soon after her Seurat study and portraying the "sun-filled hills of Tuscany" (and shown in the exhibition poster) which Jones writes could readily be taken for a post-impressionist original. In his view, Riley shares Seurat's "joy for life", a simple but radical delight in colour and seeing. It was during this time that Riley began to paint the black and white works for which she is best 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 sensation in viewers as varied as seasick and sky diving. From 1961 to 1964 she worked with the contrast of black and white, occasionally introducing tonal scales of grey. Works in this style comprised her first 1962 solo show at Musgrave's Gallery One, as well as numerous subsequent shows. For example, in Fall, a single perpendiculars curve is repeated to create a field of varying optical frequencies. 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 Aldous Huxley to experiment with hallucinogenic drugs; 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. Her paintings since 1961, have been executed by assistants from her own endlessly edited studies. While Riley meticulously plans her compositions with preparatory drawings and collage techniques, it is her assistants who paint the final canvases with great precision.
Riley began investigating colour in 1967, the year in which she produced her first stripe painting. 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. In some works, lines of colour are used to create a shimmering effect, while in others the canvas is filled with tessellating patterns. Typical of these later colourful works is Shadow Play.
In many works since this period, Riley has employed others to paint the pieces, while she concentrates on the actual design of her work Some are titled after particular dates, others after specific locations (for instance, Les Bassacs, the village near Saint-Saturnin-lès-Apt in the south of France where Riley has a studio).
Following a visit to Egypt in 1980–81 Riley created colours in what she called her 'Egyptian palette' and produced works such as the Ka and Ra series, which capture the spirit of the country, ancient and modern, and reflect the colours of the Egyptian landscape. Invoking the sensorial memory of her travels, the paintings produced between 1980 and 1985 exhibit Riley's free reconstruction of the restricted chromatic palette discovered abroad. In 1983 for the first time in fifteen years, Riley returned to Venice to once again study the paintings that form the basis of European colourism. Towards the end of the 1980s Riley's work underwent a dramatic change with the reintroduction of the diagonal in the form of a sequence of parallelograms used to disrupt and animate the vertical stripes that had characterised her previous paintings. In Delos (1983), for example, blue, turquoise, and emerald hues alternate with rich yellows, reds and white.
Bridget Riley’s distinctive, abstract works make her one of the leading lights of ‘Op’ art. This is exquisitely executed in her Fragment series in 1965. Bridget Riley print signed ‘Fragment 1’ screen print on Plexiglas, edition of 75. Bridget Riley print signed ‘Fragment 2’; screen print on Plexiglas, edition of 75. Bridget Riley print signed ‘Fragment 3’; screen print on Plexiglas, edition of 75. Bridget Riley print signed ‘Fragment 4’; screen print on Plexiglas, edition of 75. Bridget Riley print signed ‘Fragment 5’; screen print on Plexiglas, edition of 75. Bridget Riley print signed ‘Fragment 6’; screen print on Plexiglas, edition of 75. Bridget Riley print signed ‘Fragment 7;’ screen print on Plexiglas, edition of 75. All these very individual optical illusional images continue to inspire artists and designers today.
Fragments were the first instance of Bridget Riley’s engagement with screen printing. Bridge Riley continued with this medium and three years later in 1968 produced ‘The Nineteen Greys’ series, playing with warm and cool greys playing off each other as depicted in Bridget Riley print signed ‘Nineteen Greys A’, colour screen print on card, signed, edition of 75. Bridget Riley print signed ‘Nineteen Greys B’, colour screen print on card, signed, edition of 75. Bridget Riley print signed ‘Nineteen Greys C’, colour screen print on card, signed, edition 75. Bridget Riley print signed ‘Nineteen Greys D’, colour screen print on card, signed edition75.
Bridget Riley’s work continued to evolve, with her first major retrospective in 1971. She continued on with screen printing at this time, mainly for the practical reason of needing to raise funds for the show. Producing pieces such as; Bridget Riley print signed Firebird’ colour screen print, signed, edition 75. Bridget Riley print signed ‘Elongated Triangles 1’ colour screen print, edition75. Bridget Riley print signed ‘Elongated Triangles 2′ colour screen print, edition of 75’. Bridget Riley print signed ‘Elongated Triangle 3’. ‘Elongated Triangles 4’ colour screen print, edition 75. Bridget Riley print signed ‘Elongated Triangles 5’; colour screen print, edition 75. Bridget Riley print signed ‘Elongated Triangles 6’; colour screen print, edition 75. These were sold at the ticket desk for the carefully considered price of £30. They were a sell out. Riley continued to make prints throughout the seventies, mostly closely related to her paintings of the time.
It wasn’t until the end of the 8o’s when she started on her ‘zig’ series that the master piece Bridget Riley print signed ‘To Midsummer’; colour screen print, edition of 75 was produced. These screen prints were very difficult to make, the prints involved the careful registration of as many as sixteen colours.
Bridget Riley had by this time already embarked on the research which would lead to the emergence of a completely new series of paintings, in which the units of colour would become much larger as the paintings evolved to accommodate the introduction of a new element, the curve. The first print, in which these much bigger, simpler forms appear, was Bridget Riley print signed ‘Start’ colour screen print, edition of 200. Also published at the start of the millennium was Bridget Riley, print, signed ‘Brouillard’ colour screen print, edition of 85, the design similar to her elongated triangle series and ‘June’ colour screen print, edition of 75, similar in look and feel to the prints from her zig series.
Bridget Riley’s understanding of the particular requirements and possibilities of the screen printed image has allowed her to create some of the most innovative and technically accomplished screen prints ever made.