Understanding Bridget Riley's Artistic Techniques
The Science of Seeing

A square made up of thin, unfilled circles in fine line.Composition with Circles 5 © Bridget Riley 2005
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Bridget Riley

Bridget Riley

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Bridget Riley is a British artist who is widely considered one of the leading figures in the Op Art movement of the 1960s. Born in London in 1931, Riley studied at Goldsmiths College and the Royal College of Art before embarking on a career as an artist. Her early works were characterised by a fascination with patterns and optical effects, and she quickly gained a reputation for her innovative use of colour and form. Throughout her career, Riley has continued to explore the possibilities of abstraction, creating works that challenge the viewer's perceptions and create a sense of movement and dynamism.

Op Art, short for Optical Art, is a style of art that emerged in the 1960s and is characterised by the use of optical illusions and abstract patterns to create the impression of movement and depth. It typically employs the use of bold colours, contrasting lines and geometric shapes to create visual effects that play with the viewer's perception.

I learned from Seurat this important thing about colour and light, that ‘a light’ can be built from colour. I learned a great deal about interaction, that ‘a blue’ in different parts will play all sorts of different roles.
Bridget Riley

Bridget Riley's Influences: From Art History to Science

Op Art’s leading pioneer drew inspiration from a wide range of sources, from art history to science. One of her key influences was the work of Georges Seurat, the Post-Impressionist painter who developed the technique of pointillism. Seurat’s use of dots and colour theory were elements that Riley incorporated into her own work, particularly in her early black and white paintings like Fragment 1. She was also influenced by the geometric abstraction of Piet Mondrian and the Bauhaus school, which emphasised the use of simple shapes and primary colours.

In addition to art history, science played a significant role in shaping Riley's artistic approach. She was interested in the study of perception and optical illusions to create her signature style of Op Art. Her use of repeated lines, shapes, and colours created optical illusions that seemed to move and shift as the viewer's perspective changed. Her work challenged traditional notions of painting as a static, two-dimensional medium, and pushed the boundaries of what art could achieve.

Riley's interest in science also extended to her use of technology in her art-making process. She often used a projector to sketch out her initial designs, allowing her to experiment with different configurations and compositions. Her collaborations with printmakers and engineers helped to create large-scale installations that incorporated movement and light. By drawing on influences from both art history and science, Riley created a unique and groundbreaking style of art that continues to captivate and inspire viewers today.

The Science of Seeing: Visual Perception and Colour Theory

Her interests in the optical effects of colour and line led her to study the works of Hermann von Helmholtz, who explored the psychological aspects of vision. Studies about how the brain perceives visual information as a whole rather than as individual parts is a concept reflected in Riley's use of repetition and pattern to create visual effects. By exploring the science of seeing, Riley created a body of work that remains both visually captivating and intellectually engaging.

Colour theory, specifically the relationship between colours and their visual effects, was also of interest to Riley. She played with the interaction between colours, using complementary and contrasting hues to create the illusion of movement and depth. She also experimented with the way colours appear to change depending on their surrounding context, a phenomenon known as simultaneous contrast.

Riley's Techniques: Creating Visual Rhythm and Movement

Bridget Riley's techniques involve the use of geometric shapes, lines, and colours to create visual rhythm in her works. Her signature style often features repetitive patterns that produce optical illusions, causing the viewer's eye to move across the canvas.

In addition to op art, Riley also employs a technique known as perceptual colour, which involves the use of colour to create the illusion of depth and three-dimensionality. She often uses complementary colours, such as blue and orange or red and green, creating a visual tension that intensifies the movement and rhythm of her artwork. The use of colour is central to Riley's work, as colour is not only a visual experience, but also has an emotional impact on the viewer.

Riley's Contribution to Contemporary Art and Art Education

Bridget Riley has made significant contributions to contemporary art and art education. Her innovative use of optical illusion and geometric abstraction has influenced generations of artists and inspired new artistic movements.

In addition to her contributions to contemporary art, Riley has also been a leading figure in art education. She has been an influential teacher, sharing her techniques and philosophies with students at a variety of institutions. Her emphasis on the importance of process and experimentation in art making has had a lasting impact on art education. Her influence can be seen in the work of many contemporary artists who share her commitment to experimentation and exploration in their art making processes

The Enduring Influence of Bridget Riley's Art

Bridget Riley's art has left a lasting impact on the world of abstract art and continues to influence contemporary artists today. Her use of geometric shapes and vibrant colours created a sense of movement and optical illusion that challenged traditional notions of art. Riley's works have been exhibited in major museums around the world, cementing her place as one of the most important artists of the 20th century, considered a Modern British Master. As a pioneer of Op art, Riley's legacy extends beyond her own works and has inspired generations of artists to experiment with optical effects and perception in their own art.

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