Bridget Louise Riley, CH CBE (born April 24, 1931 in London) is an English painter who is one of the foremost proponents of op art, art that exploits the fallibility of the human eye.
Bridget was educated at Cheltenham Ladies' College; she studied art first at Goldsmiths College and later at the Royal College of Art, where her fellow students included artists Peter Blake and Frank Auerbach. She left college early to look after her ailing father, and suffered a mental breakdown shortly thereafter. After recovery, she worked in a number of jobs, including several as an art teacher, and briefly in the art department of the advertising company J. Walter Thompson.
In the late 1950s, Riley began to produce works in a style recognisably her own, a style inspired by a number of sources. A study of the pointillism of Georges Seurat, and subsequent landscapes produced in that style, led to her interest in optical effects. The paintings of Victor Vasarely, who had used designs of black and white lines since the 1930s also had a strong influence on Riley's early works. In her later works, the influence of the futurists, especially Giacomo Balla, can also be observed.
It was during this time that Riley began to paint the black and white works for which she is best known today. 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.
Although remembered today mainly for the impressions of movement and colour they give through the exploitation of optical illusions, it is speculated that the impetus for Riley making these seemingly cold and calculated works was a failed love affair. One of the more famous works in this style is Fall (1963).
In 1965, Riley exhibited in the 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.
Following a major retrospective in the early 1970s, Riley began traveling 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 created a shimmering effect, , while in other works, the canvas is filled with tessellating patterns. In 1986 Riley met the postmodern painters Philip Taaffe and Ross Bleckner, and was inspired to introduce a diagonal element to her work. Typical of these later colourful works is Shadowplay.
In many works since this period, Riley has employed others to paint the pieces, while she concentrates on the actual design of her work.
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.'