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Riley, Movement in Squares

Movement in Squares, 1961.

Bridget Louise Riley CH CBE (born April 24, 1931 in London) is an English painter who is one of the foremost proponents of op art, art that exploits the fallibility of the human eye. She is an example of a painter who has used optical illusions in her work.

Riley was educated at Cheltenham Ladies' College; she studied art first at Goldsmiths College and later at the Royal College of Art, where her fellow students included artists Peter Blake and Frank Auerbach. She left college early to look after her ailing father, and suffered a mental breakdown shortly thereafter. After recovery, she worked a number of jobs, including several as an art teacher, and briefly in the art department of the advertising company J. Walter Thompson.[1]

In the late 1950s, Riley began to produce works in a style recognizably her own, and this style was inspired by a number of sources. A study of the pointillism of Georges Seurat, and subsequent landscapes produced in that style, led to her an interest in optical effects. The paintings of Victor Vasarely, who had used designs of black and white lines since the 1930s also had a strong influence on Riley's early works. In her later works, the influence of the futurists, especially Giacomo Balla, can also be observed.

Riley, Cataract 3

Cataract 3, 1967.

It was during this time that Riley began to paint the black and white works for which she is best known today. They present a great variety of geometric forms that produce sensations of movement or colour. In the early 1960s, her works were said to induce sensations in viewers as varied as seasickness and sky diving. Works in this style comprised her first solo show in London in 1962 at Gallery One run by Victor Musgrave, as well as numerous subsequent shows. Visually, these works relate to many concerns of the period: a perceived need for audience participation (this relates them to the Happenings, for which the period is famous), challenges to the notion of the mind-body duality which led some people to experiment with hallucinogenic drugs (see Aldous Huxley's writings); concerns with a tension between a scientific future which might be very beneficial or might lead to a nuclear war; and fears about the loss of genuine individual experience in a Brave New World. [1]

Riley, Shadowplay

Shadowplay, 1990.

Although remembered today mainly for the impressions of movement and colour they give through the exploitation of optical illusions, it is speculated that the impetus for Riley making these seemingly cold and calculated works was a failed love affair. One of the more famous works in this style is Fall (1963).

In 1965, Riley exhibited in the New York City show, The Responsive Eye, the exhibition which first drew attention to so-called Op art. One of her paintings was reproduced on the cover of the show's catalogue, though Riley later became disillusioned with the movement, and expressed regret that her work was exploited for commercial purposes.

In the late 1960s, Riley began using a full range of colour, after traveling to Egypt, where she was inspired by colourful hieroglyphic decoration. In some works, lines of colour are used to created a shimmering effect, while in other works, the canvas is filled with tessellating patterns. In many works since this period, Riley has employed others to paint the pieces, while she concentrates on the actual design of her work.


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