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  Bridget Riley Biography

Bridget Riley Biography

born London (UK) 1931

Bridget Louise Riley CBE (born April 24, 1931 in London) is a British painter, one of the foremost proponents of op art, art exploiting the fallibility of the human eye.

Riley was born in London and studied art first at Goldsmiths College and later at the Royal College of Art, with fellow students including (Sir) Peter Blake and Frank Auerbach. She left college early to look after her sick father, and suffered a mental breakdown shortly thereafter. After recovery she took on a number of jobs, including several as an art teacher.

Towards the end of the 1950s, Riley began to produce works in a style recognisably her own. This style came from a number of sources. A study of the pointillism of Georges Seurat, and subsequent landscapes produced in that style, led to an interest in optical effects. The paintings of Victor Vasarely, who had used designs of black and white lines since the 1930s, are an obvious influence. Particularly in later works, the influence of futurists, especially Giacomo Balla, can also be discerned.

Around the end of the 1950s, Riley began to paint the black and white works for which she is probably best known today. They present straight or wavy lines (occasionally discs or squares instead), which give the illusion of movement or colour. Works in this style made up her first solo show in London in 1962. Although mainly remembered today for the impressions of movement and colour they give through the exploitation of optical illusions, it is said that the impetus for Riley making these apparently cold and calculated works was a failed love affair. One of the more famous works in this style is Fall (1963).

Riley exhibited in the 1965 New York City show, The Responsive Eye, the exhibition which first drew attention to so-called op art. One of her paintings was reproduced on the cover of the show's catalogue, though Riley later became disillusioned with the movement, and expressed regret that her work was exploited for commercial purposes.

By the end of the 1960s, Riley was using a full range of colour. Apparently she started using colour after a trip to Egypt, where she was inspired by the colourful hieroglyphic decoration. Sometimes lines of colour are used to give a shimmering effect, while other works fill the canvas with tessellating patterns. In many works since this period, Riley has employed others to do the painting, while she concentrates on the actual design of her work.

One of Riley's more unusual works came in 1983 when she designed the interior decoration of the Royal Liverpool Hospital. For this, she used bands of simple colour, rather than her usual more dazzling work. She has also designed sets for plays.

Riley won the International Prize for Painting at the 1968 Venice Biennale, and has had a number of major retrospective exhibitions held in several countries. In 1998 she was made a Companion of Honour.

Select Timeline

  • 1955 - received a B.A. from the Royal College of Art
  • 1969 - Riley was the first woman ever to win the International Prize for Painting at the 34th Venice Biennale
  • 1976 - Honorary Doctorate from University of Manchester
  • 1986 - Honorary Doctorate from University of Ulster
  • 1994 - Honorary Doctorate from Oxford University
  • 1995 - Honorary Doctorate from Cambridge University
  • 1996 - Honorary Doctorate De Montfort University
  • 1997 - Honorary Doctorate from University of Exeter
  • 1999 - Riley appointed the Companion of Honour
  • 2003 - received the Praemium Imperiale, the International Prize for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts, from the Japan Arts Association

Select Exhibitions

  • 1998 - Bridget Riley - A Retrospective, Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Kendal, Cumbria (England)
  • 1998 - Bridget Riley, Galerie Aurel Scheibler, Berlin
  • 1999 - Bridget Riley - Ausgewahlte Gemalde 1961-1999, Kunstverein fur die Rheinlande und Westfalen, Duesseldorf
  • 2000 - Bridget Riley - Reconnaissance, Dia Art Foundation: Chelsea, New York, NY
  • 2001 - The Inward Eye - Transcendence in Contemporary Art, Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, Houston, TX
  • 2001 - Great Britain - The 1960s, Joseph Rickards Gallery, New York, NY
  • 2002 - Whisper - Sammelausstellung zum elfjahrigen Jubilaum, Galerie Aurel Scheibler, Berlin
  • 2002 - Bridget Riley, Robert Sandelson, London (England)
  • 2002 - Bridget Riley - Selected Prints, Marlborough Fine Art (London) Ltd, London (England)
  • 2002 - Bridget Riley - New Works, Galerie Michael Sturm, Stuttgart
  • 2002 - Bridget Riley - New Work, Museum Haus Esters, Krefeld
  • 2002 - Bridget Riley - New Work, Museum Kaiser Wilhelm, Krefeld
  • 2003 - Bridget Riley - New Painting, Prints and Studies, Green On Red Gallery, Dublin
  • 2003 - Bridget Riley, Tate Britain, London (England)
  • 2003 - Bridget Riley, Galerie Beyeler, Basel
  • 2003 - Bridget Riley, Marlborough Fine Art (London) Ltd, London (England)
  • 2004 - Bridget Riley, Museum of Contemporary Art Sydney, Sydney, NSW
  • 2004 - Bridget Riley - Bilder und Gouachen 1981-2004, Galerie Aurel Scheibler, Berlin
  • 2004 - Art and the 60s - This was Tomorrow, Tate Britain, London (England)
  • 2004 - Bridget Riley - A Print Retrospective 1962 - 2003, Contemporary Art Center Vilnius (CAC), Vilnius
  • 2004 - Beyond Geometry - Experiments in Form 1940s-70s, Los Angeles County Museum of Art - LACMA, Los Angeles, CA
  • 2005 - Bridget Riley, Galerie Schlegl - Nicole Schlegl, Zurich
  • 2005 - Bridget Riley - Paintings and Works on Paper, 1963-2005, Cranbrook Art Museum, Bloomfield Hills, MI
  • 2005 - Prague Biennale 2, Prague Biennale, Prague
  • 2005 - Bridget Riley - A Print Retrospective 1962 - 2003, City Art Museum Ljubljana - Mestna Galerija 2, Ljubljana
  • 2005 - Bridget Riley - A Print Retrospective 1962 - 2003, MMSU Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Rijeka
  • 2005 - Bridget Riley: Paintings and Preparatory Work 1961-2004, Wellington City Gallery, Wellington
  • 2005 - Bridget Riley, New Art Centre, Salisbury (England)
  • 2006 - Eye on Europe - Prints, Books & Multiples, 1960 to Now, MoMA - Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
  • 2006 - Bridget Riley, Marlborough Fine Art (London) Ltd, London (England)

Select Artwork

  • Movement in Squares - 1961, Tempera on Hardboard
  • Horizontal Vibration - 1961, Tempera on Hardboard
  • Britannia - 1961, emuslion on cardboard
  • Kiss - 1961, Acrylic on Linen
  • Black to White Discs - 1961-1962
  • Blaze 1 - 1962, Emulsion on Hardboard
  • Fall - 1963, Emulsion on Hardboard
  • Loss - 1964
  • Blaze 4 - 1964, Serigraph
  • Descending - 1965, Emulsion on Hardboard
  • Arrest 1 - 1965, Emulsion on Canvas
  • Breathe - 1966, Emulsion on Canvas
  • Cataract 3 - 1967, PVA on Canvas
  • Orient 4 - 1970, Acrylic on Canvas
  • Study '74 Colour/Space Sequence - 1974, Gouache on paper
  • Composition with Circles - 1998, Silkscreen
  • Going Along - 1999, Oil on linen
  • Reve - 1999, Oil on linen
  • Sylvan - 2000, Silkscreen
  • Carnival - 2000, Silkscreen


  • Bridget Riley - Tate (August 13, 2003)


  • "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."
  • "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."
  • "As a painter today you have to work without that essential platform. But if one does not deceive oneself and accepts this lack of certainty, other things may come into play."
  • "I work with nature, although in completely new terms."
  • "In general, my paintings are multifocal. You can't call it unfocused space, but not being fixed to a single focus is very much of our time. "
  • "As the artist picks his way along, rejecting and accepting as he goes, certain patterns of enquiry emerge."


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 Bridget Riley

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