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Artists Bridget Riley
Bridget Riley Photo

Bridget Riley

British Painter

Movement: Op Art

Born: April 24, 1931 - London, UK

Bridget Riley Timeline

Quotes

"Fashion always plays a part in the art world, but when it gets the upper hand it spells a vacuum."
Bridget Riley
"The music of colour, that's what I want"
Bridget Riley
"The marks on the canvas are sole and essential agents in a series of relationships which form the structure of the painting."
Bridget Riley
"I always took care to learn from the past, to look carefully at what other painters had done and why, at how they got there."
Bridget Riley
"Contrast is a very basic principle of my work, but I use a mixture of colour harmonies and colour contrasts to activate effects."
Bridget Riley
"For me nature is not landscape, but the dynamism of visual forces."
Bridget Riley
"Painters have always needed a sort of veil upon which they can focus their attention. It's as though the more fully the consciousness is absorbed, the greater the freedom of the spirit behind."
Bridget Riley
"Painting is, I think, inevitably an archaic activity and one that depends on spiritual values."
Bridget Riley
"No painter, dead or alive, has ever made us more aware of our eyes than Bridget Riley."
Robert Melville, 1971

"I couldn't get near what I wanted through seeing, recognizing and recreating, so I stood the problem on its head. I started studying squares, rectangles, triangles and the sensations they give rise to."

Bridget Riley Signature

Synopsis

Bridget Riley's geometric paintings implore the viewer to reflect on how it physically feels to look. Her paintings of the 1960s became synonymous with the Op Art movement, which exploited optical illusions to make the two-dimensional surface of the painting seem to move, vibrate, and sparkle. Grounded in her own optical experiences and not color theories, math, or science, Riley experiments with structural units, such as squares, ovals, stripes, and curves in various configurations and colors to explore the physical and psychological responses of the eye. Her paintings inspired textile designs and psychedelic posters over the decades, but her objectives have always been to interrogate what and how we see and to provoke both uncertainty and clarity with her paintings.

Key Ideas

Steeped in the paintings of the Impressionist, Post-Impressionists, and the Futurists, Riley dissects the visual experience of the earlier modern masters without their reliance on figures, landscapes, or objects. Playing with figure/ground relations and the interactions of color, Riley presents the viewer with a multitude of dynamic, visual sensations.
Riley's formal compositions invoke feelings of tension and repose, symmetry and asymmetry, dynamism and stasis and other psychic states, making her paintings less about optical illusions and more about stimulating the viewer's imagination.
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 creates a tension between the artist's subjective experience and the almost mechanical feeling of the surface of the painting.
Riley's artistic practice is grounded in a utopian, social vision. She views her art as an inherently social act, as the viewer completes the experience of the painting. This belief in an interactive art led her to resist the commercialization, and in her mind, the vulgarization of Op art by the fashion world.

Biography

Bridget Riley Photo

Childhood

Bridget Riley was born in Norwood, London. Her father, John Fisher Riley, was a printer and owned his own business. He relocated his firm and the family to Lincolnshire in 1938 and when the Second World War broke out a year later, he was drafted into the army. While on active duty, he was captured by the Japanese and forced to work on the Siamese railway. He survived, but Riley remembers he was never the same. She recalls how "he had learned to live in a self-contained way, to isolate himself from what was around him."

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Bridget Riley Biography Continues

Important Art by Bridget Riley

The below artworks are the most important by Bridget Riley - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Kiss (1961)
Artwork Images

Kiss (1961)

Artwork description & Analysis: Riley started work on Kiss after her relationship with Maurice de Sausmarez ended. While with de Sausmarez, she enthusiastically studied Futurist art in Italy and painted the Italian countryside. She made careful studies of paintings by the Neo-Impressionist Georges Seurat and the abstractionist Piet Mondrian. While working in this manner, Riley wanted to go further than these modern masters in investigating optical experience. In her words she wanted "to dismember, to dissect, the visual experience." With Kiss, Riley found her own forms to explore the vibrating and oscillating space she was so drawn to in these modern painters.

The black and white composition enacts a visual drama on the canvas. The two black forms almost touch, and the white space diminishes toward the center between the two sensuous black forms and then crescendos at the right edge. She said, "I decided on two black shapes, one with a curve, the other with a straight line, opposites, nearly touching, but not touching, the white spaces between them making almost a flash of light." She felt it was a success, and although she had told herself it would be her last painting, the painting pointed to further explorations.

The work is abstract, drawing on the open and shallow pictorial space established by Mondrian and the Abstract Expressionists such as Jackson Pollock. She activated that space with minimal means: sharply delineated black and white forms often asymmetrically arranged. With these means she embarked on a series of numerous black and white paintings that came to define the Op Art of the early 1960s.

Oil on canvas - Private Collection

Movement in Squares (1961)
Artwork Images

Movement in Squares (1961)

Artwork description & Analysis: Riley cites Movement in Squares as the first major step, after Kiss, towards her breakthrough into abstraction. During a difficult time in her art making, and in an attempt to make a new start, she began with the simple square. She said "Everyone knows what a square looks like and how to make one in geometric terms. It is a monumental, highly conceptualized form: stable and symmetrical, equal angles, equal size. I drew the first few squares. No discoveries there. Was there anything to be found in a square? But as I drew, things began to change." She created the design for Movement in Squares in one sitting without stopping, and then painted each alternate square black to provide contrast. When she stepped back to look, she was "surprised and elated" by what she saw.

Riley establishes the square as the basic unit and then modulates it across the canvas, maintaining its height but changing its width. The square's width diminishes toward the center of the canvas until it becomes a sliver, and then increases again toward the right edge. It's as if two planes are coming together and bending into each other, not unlike the pages of a bound book lying open. The progression of shapes intensifies, climaxes, and then de-escalates, provoking the viewer to confront their perceptual senses as well as their ideas of "stabilities and instabilities, certainties and uncertainties." Riley's exploration of how we see came to be rooted in her own experience and experimentation, her own intuition, and not on theories of optics.

Acrylic on canvas - Arts Council Collection, London

Current (1964)
Artwork Images

Current (1964)

Artwork description & Analysis: Current graced the cover of the catalog for the seminal 1965 MoMA exhibition of Op Art, "The Responsive Eye," that launched Riley's notoriety in the United States. Working in black and white, Riley repeats a wavy black line at regular intervals across the canvas. The curve and the proximity of the lines make the painting appear to vibrate and move, as the viewer attempts to process the forms.

This composition confounds the usual foreground/background arrangement of pictorial space by not privileging one over the other. It is difficult to ascertain if the black is on top of the white or the white on top of the black, and instead the relation between the two colors never settles into an easy harmony. Riley has always been a little skeptical of the label "Op Art" because of its "gimmicky" sound. While her work produces optical illusions, of movement for instance, Riley insists that her paintings are not mechanical or depersonalized. She stresses the subjectivity of her own decision-making process in creating the forms.

In addition to the vibratory space created by the contrasting black and white forms, the viewer will also notice another phenomenon: colors not painted on the canvas begin to appear. One critic described them as "strangely iridescent disembodied colors, like St. Elmo's fires" that occur around points of tension in the composition. Where a light color meets a dark one, the brain creates color out of the juxtaposed lightness and darkness. Through stimulating our visual and mental processes, Riley fulfills her aim for "the space between the picture plane and the spectator to be active."

Synthetic polymer paint on composition board - MoMA, New York

More Bridget Riley Artwork and Analysis:



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Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Bridget Riley
Interactive chart with Bridget Riley's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart

Artists

Henri MatisseHenri Matisse
Jackson PollockJackson Pollock
Victor VasarelyVictor Vasarely
Paul C├ęzannePaul C├ęzanne
Georges SeuratGeorges Seurat

Personal Contacts

Peter BlakePeter Blake
Frank AuerbachFrank Auerbach
Richard Allen

Movements

Abstract ExpressionismAbstract Expressionism
Post-ImpressionismPost-Impressionism
FuturismFuturism

Influences on Artist
Bridget Riley
Bridget Riley
Years Worked: 1960s - present
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Richard AnuszkiewiczRichard Anuszkiewicz
Howard HodgkinHoward Hodgkin

Personal Contacts

EH Gombrich

Movements

Op ArtOp Art

Useful Resources on Bridget Riley

Videos

Books

Websites

Articles

More

The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.

biography

The Eye's Mind: Bridget Riley - Collected Writings 1965-2009 Recomended resource

By Bridget Riley

Bridget Riley

By Paul Moorhouse

artworks

Bridget Riley: The Stripe Paintings

By Paul Moorhouse, Robert Kudielka and Richard Schiff

Bridget Riley: The Curve Paintings 1961-2014

By Bridget Riley

More Interesting Books about Bridget Riley
Not so square after all

By Michael Kimmelman
The Guardian
September 28, 2000

An art history lesson from Bridget Riley

By Maggie Gray
Apollo Magazine
August 12, 2015

Leading your brain into a crazy pirouette Recomended resource

By Jonathan Jones
The Guardian
June 11, 2015

Bridget Riley: How I got my curves back

By Mark Hudson
The Telegraph
June 15, 2015

More Interesting Articles about Bridget Riley

interviews

A Q&A with Bridget Riley, painter

By Dany Louise
Art News
June 18, 2015

At the End of my Pencil Recomended resource

By Bridget Riley
The London Review of Books
October 8, 2009

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Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

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