Five Things You Should Know About Bridget Riley

“My work is ultimately inspired by nature, for me nature is not landscape, but the dynamism of visual forces – an event rather than an appearance.” – Bridget Riley

Bridget riley was born in Norwood, London on 24 April 1931. Her father was a printer, but in the Second World War was sent to the Far East. This is when Riley, her sister and her mother moved to a cottage in Cornwall, near the sea in Padstow. This cottage Riley also shared with her aunt who had attended Goldsmiths’ College, and during this period Riley’s education came from non-qualified or retired teachers. After the war, between 1949-52 Riley attended Cheltenham Ladies College and then the Royal College of Art (1952-55) where her fellow students included Sir Peter Blake and Frank Auberach. 

After nursing her father through a serious car accident, she joined an advertising agency as an illustrator where she would work part-time until 1962. It was during this period that Riley adopted the pointillist technique into her drawings, and from here, she evolved into the artist we know now, who ranks among the top 10 most expensive living female artists in the world.

Her Signature Style

Riley’s earliest work was of a figurative, semi-impressionist style. As we know, during her time at the advertising agency she adopted the pointillist technique into her style of paintings around 1958; influenced heavily by George Seurat, she focused mainly on producing landscapes with this style (see Pink Landscape 1960). 

During the year of 1960, influenced by the 60’s culture of mind-expansion she began to develop her idiosyncratic Op Art style (see, Fall) that originally focused on black and white (and occasional grey) geometric shapes and patters producing a disorientating, and often hypnotizing effect on the eye. At the time her pieces reportedly made their viewers feel everything from sea sick, to as if they were sky diving. The exploration of the influence of many and various things on the mind and consciousness were the zeitgeist; with Aldous Huxley experimenting with hallucinogens, rebelling against the Brave New World of homogenization and control he’d foreseen.

The Colourful Influence of Hieroglyphs

Riley first investigated the use of colour in her works in 1967, when she created her first stripe painting. Over the years Riley would go one to experiment with colour with more vigor than previously, and delve further into its effects on the sense of movement, such as Shadow Play, 1990. 

During the early 1980s (1980-81) Riley travelled to Egypt. It was the chromatic design of the hieroglyphs she saw there that inspired here to experiment with colour in her own works, such as those in her Ra and Ka series, that channel the sensorial remnants of her travels there. This shift to the brighter side of her palette marked a poignant, and incredibly successful, evolution in her style.

Her Painting’s Been Worn By The Who

During the yearly 60s period Riley became known as an art ‘It’ girl, she created visual representations of the experimental mood of the time, in 1963 her first show in New York Sold out before it even opened. By 1966 her status had reached fever-pitch and Keith Moon, the drummer for The Who, was pictured wearing a T-shirt sporting Riley’s Blaze painting (which was a hypnotizing vortex of black and white lines).

The exposure of her work had, of course, lead to her work to be copied; and graphic designers set about commercializing Op Art, which Riley was duly upset about. After her exhibition, The Responsive Eye at the MoMA in New York in 1965, she is reported as saying her “heart sank” as she saw shops littered with rip-offs of her designs, “vulgarised in the rag trade”, as she drove to the airport. At this point in time the US had no copyright laws to protect artists, this was brought it in 1967.

Murals

Riley has been commissioned to paint numerous, often temporary, murals. Most notable for the National Gallery, Musée d’Art Moderene de la Ville de Paris and Tate Gallery, and in 2014  the imperial College Healthcare Charity Art Collection commissioned a permanent mural for St Mary’s Hospital London that is 56 meters long, filled with pinks, greens and yellows. The mural was placed on the 10th floor of the hospital’s Queen Elizabeth Mother Wing, adjoining two other murals complete by Riley 20 years previously, which tonally, are more blue and green in comparison.

Most Expensive Works

In the last 25 years her paintings have had a 25.5% increase in value. In 2008, Chant 2 (1967), which was Riley’s first work exclusively in colour, sold for £2,561,250 at Sotheby’s, Static 2 (1966) sold at Christies for £1,476,500 (- the estimate was £700,000-900,000); and Stretch (1964) which sold in 2013 for £1.6 million.