British artist Bridget Riley’s international success took off in the early 60s when she began pioneering the abstract paintings she is known for today. Leading the British Abstract Op-Art movement, Riley plays with visual perception using psychedelic geometry and colour, as begun in her 1961 work Movement in Squares.
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Op Art luminary Bridget Riley plays with optical and chromatic phenomena and is a central figure in modern and abstract art. Imploring the viewer to consider how it physically feels to look, Riley constructs geometric patterns which cause perceptual disruption.
Born in Norwood, London, in 1931, Riley's early biography sees her spend most of her childhood in Cornwall and Lincolnshire, going on to study at the Royal College of Art from 1952 to 1955. Initially painting figurative subjects in a semi-Impressionist manner, everything about Riley’s style evolved in the 1960s when she developed the iconic style she is known for today and began to dominate the Abstract Op Art scene in Britain. Op Art explored the dynamic potentialities of optical phenomena and created works that produced a disorientating, dizzying effect on the eye – an effect that has become emblematic of a Riley artwork. Deceptively simple from the beginning, Riley’s jazzy, psychedelic work continues to define contemporary British art.
Riley’s career and success took off at the start of the 1960s. The game changer, as she admits, was her 1961 Movement in Squares. This painting was a ground-breaking moment for the artist, as it marked the start of her journey towards the geometric patterns that define her oeuvre. With its endless dizzying and mesmerising effects, her Movement in Squares set the tone for her future masterpieces.
A second watershed in her career, in 1967 her Stripes series officially introduced colour to Riley’s previously monochromatic black and white works. The stability of the repeated stripe form enabled Riley to explore the visual effects of colour and varying colour combinations in greater depth, expanding her compositions' perceptual and optical possibilities. Distinctive and optically vibrant, the Stripes series is truly iconic.
Following Riley’s precipitous rise to fame, the fashion industry quickly appropriated her zingy geometric designs. Concerned this would damage her artistic reputation, Riley was perturbed. However, as the artist continued to innovate and expand the bounds of her painting formally, her reputation never suffered. Riley progressed to having her first major solo exhibition in 1971 at the Hayward Gallery. Featuring one of her earliest works, the gallery continues to foster a relationship with Riley, presenting the 2019-20 Bridget Riley exhibition nearly five decades later. The National Galleries of Scotland also exhibited Riley’s artworks from June until September 2019, displaying over 70 years’ worth of paintings that defined British art.
Image © Christie's / Gala © Bridget Riley 1974
Initially executed in 1974, Bridget Riley’s Gala dabbles with bold colours, perfectly simulating the motion of the rippling surface of a stream. This painting represents the height of the Op Art movement and Riley’s experimentation and transition to the more visually daring.
Gala surpassed its presale estimates of £2.5-£3.5million, selling at an eye-watering £4.4million at the 2022 Modern British Art Evening Sale in Christie’s in London.
Image © Christie's / Untitled (Diagonal Curve) © Bridget Riley 1971
A stand-out example of British artist Bridget Riley’s visually arresting illusionist œuvre, Untitled (Diagonal Curve) (1966) smashed its price estimate (between £2.5 million and £3.5 million), realising £4,338,500 at Christie’s London in June of 2016. Performing markedly stronger than some of its straight-lined counterparts, such as Zing 2 (1971), which realised just under £3.3 million in June 2021, this dynamic, monochrome work reminds us of Riley’s position at the centre point of the Op Art movement.
Comprising a vertigo-inducing assemblage of seemingly oscillatory form, this optically challenging piece is one of the artist’s last experimentations with black and white; the next year, Riley would go on to make her first bold steps in the world of colour.
Image © Christie's / Zing 2 © Bridget Riley 1971
A work typical of British artist Bridget Riley’s œuvre during the ‘60s and ‘70s, Zing 2 (1971) has remained hidden from the public eye since the time of its production. Significantly outstripping its auction price estimate of £1.8 million - £2.2 million, the work realised just under £3.3 million in June 2021 at Christie’s auction house in London.
In contrast with the markedly more serpentine elements of Riley’s work, such as those vibrant paintings the artist created during the 1980s and beyond, Riley’s use of colour appears somewhat muted. Ever present, however, is the artist’s highly technical, semi-illusionist approach to geometric form – a hallmark of the so-called Op Art movement.
Image © Christie's / Chant 2 © Bridget Riley 1967