Bridget Riley creates massive, brightly hued abstract canvases with overwhelming colors and patterns. Her first works were in black and white in repeated geometric patterns, and it is these black & white paintings for which she is best known.
Riley attended Cheltenham Ladies College from 1946 to 1948. She studied art at Goldsmith’s College for three years and at the Royal College of Art from 1952-1955. She worked part-time as an illustrator at J. Walter Thompson advertising Agency.
Her first paintings were copies of the pointillist artist Georges Seurat. In the 1960s she developed her signature style, an optical style of painting, called Op Art. She would begin each work as a preliminary drawing, attempting various sketches before choosing her final composition. Her black and white geometric patterns could trigger in a viewer sensations of movement or vibration, sometimes giving the effect of hallucinatory images. In 1966, she began to add color into her stripe paintings and continued in this way through 1977.
After visiting Egypt in the early 1980s and seeing colorful hieroglyphics, Riley incorporated even more color into her works, which were now painted in three distinct patterns. The first pattern was the use of very thin vertical stripes as seen in “Delos” 1983 and “Blue Return” 1984. The second consisted of paintings whose vertical orientation was disrupted by diagonal bars – sometimes in layers of colorful diamonds, such as ”Between” 1989. The third technique, made after 1998, was her use of interlocking waves where the verticals and diagonals were complemented by round and gently curved shapes. Here the forms were larger and the number of colors smaller, which brought a sense of calm to the composition.
Riley has been using scissors for some time now, and the placement of the cutouts comes before the actual painting. In her wall painting “Arcadia 3, 2009/2011” Riley combined her use of cutouts with a restricted palette. The actual painting was done by her assistants so that Riley could achieve detachment from the work.
Riley has taught in numerous colleges of art and has studios in London, Cornwall, and Vaucluse France.
In 1968, Riley represented Great Britain at the Venice Biennale where she was the first British contemporary painter and the first woman to be awarded the International Prize for painting. In 2003, Tate Britain organized a major retrospective of her work. She has had solo shows through the world and several retrospectives in galleries in London and New York.
Her work is in the permanent collections of major museums worldwide: the Art Institute of Chicago, Arts Council U.K., Dia Art Foundation, Kunstmuseum Bern, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art, New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Stedelijk Museum, and Tate Gallery London.