Born in London in 1931, Bridget Riley attended Goldsmiths College (1949-52) and the Royal College of Art (1952-55), alongside fellow students Peter Blake and Frank Auerbach. After graduating, she taught art in schools, worked in an advertising agency, and later taught in art colleges up till 1964. A revolutionary exhibition of Jackson Pollock’s work at the Whitechapel Gallery in London in 1958, combined with an exhibition of Futurism at the Venice Biennale in 1960, stimulated the development of what was to become her signature style of ‘Op Art’. This was furthered by her studies of Pointillism, specifically by Georges Seurat, and also of the black and white geometry of Italian Romanesque architecture. She was to develop a practice of carefully preparing designs, which assistants would then execute as finished oils. Riley is also a published writer on Old Masters and on contemporary art, has co-curated major exhibitions on Piet Mondrian at the Tate, and Klee at the Hayward Gallery, and was invited in 2001 to select her ‘Artist’s Choice’ for an exhibition at the National Gallery.
Riley’s first solo exhibition in 1962 showed abstract works in black and white, using either fragmented or edge-to-edge wavy lines. These deliberately played with visual perception to produce an impression of continual vertical or horizontal movement which was difficult to pin down. She gradually introduced shades of grey, and then in 1967, color into her work. A visit to Egypt in 1980-81 inspired a new palette of colors, reflecting the landscape there, and a new pattern of tessellated, oblique and curved shapes. Throughout her career her graphic works using screenprinting, has sometimes anticipated, and at others, mirrored her painted oeuvre. She worked closely, first, with Chris Prater at Kelpra Studio, London, and latterly with Sally Gimson at Artizan Editions, Hove. In 2012, Karsten Schubert edited the publication of her complete prints (1962-2012) for Ridinghouse, London.
Her participation in MoMA’s exhibition ‘The Responsive Eye’ featured a work of hers on the catalogue cover. It not only drew attention to the Op Art movement, but also launched a fashion craze which plagiarised her work and that of others. In 1968 she represented Britain at the Venice Biennale, together with the sculptor Phillip King, where she won the International Prize for Painting, being the first woman artist to do so. Retrospectives followed at the Hayward Gallery and the National Gallery, Prague, in 1971, and at the Hayward Gallery again and the Kunsthalle Nuremberg in 1992. In 1999 the Serpentine Gallery’s exhibition of her paintings from the 60s and 70s refocused attention on her contribution to Op Art. This was followed in 2003 by a retrospective at the Tate, and in 2014 by an exhibition of her ‘Curve Paintings 1961-2014’ at Serge Chermayeff’s Modernist masterpiece, the De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea. From October 23, 2019 to January 26, 2020 the Hayward Gallery in London presented a major retrospective exhibition of her work.