Although Bridget Riley was born in London, she spent much of her childhood in Cornwall and Lincolnshire. Her father, John Riley, was a printer by trade and relocated the business to Lincolnshire when she was young. However, on the outbreak of War her father was drafted into the armed forces and Bridget, her sister and mother were all sent to Cornwall to avoid the dangers of war. The light, sky and landscape of Cornwall were to have an everlasting effect on her.
Riley had artistic yearnings from a young age and after her initial education at Cheltenham Ladies College, she went on to attend both Goldsmiths and the Royal College of Art. Riley found the direction she received at college confusing and her work remained figurative throughout her time there. Following college, Riley moved back to Lincolnshire to nurse her ill father, after which she spent time recuperating back in Cornwall.
In 1956, Riley visited the Tate Gallery where she saw an exhibition that was to change her direction entirely; it was the American Abstract Expressionist Painters Show and it was the first of its kind in Britain. The following year she took a teaching position in Harrow and then at Loughborough School of Art; by 1958 she was employed as a commercial illustrator.
In the summer of 1960, Riley travelled to Italy where she was inspired by the art and architecture that surrounded her, including works by the Italian Futurists. Upon her return she continued her work as an illustrator and took a part time teaching position at Croydon School of Art. It was during this period that she began experimenting with black and white geometric shapes, optical illusion and shifts in perception.
Riley held her first solo exhibition at the One Gallery in 1962. This was soon followed by an invitation to exhibit at the ground-breaking ‘New Generation’ show at the Whitechapel Gallery, alongside David Hockney (b.1937) and Allen Jones (b.1937). Riley’s popularity was widespread and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, included her work accompanied by Victor Vasarely’s (1906-1997) in their 1965 show, ‘The Responsive Eye’. The exhibition was extremely successful and propelled Riley into artistic stardom. It was about this time when the term ‘Op Art’ (optical art) was first coined in a Time magazine review in New York. This popular imagery has become intrinsically associated with the 1960’s and comparisons can be found in almost everything from the period, including wallpaper, rugs, shirts, ties and shoes.
The artist’s work has progressed throughout the years to encompass various colours and shapes, many of which are concerned not only with optical effects but also light and space. Riley still continues to paint and exhibits internationally.
Her works can be found in museums in: London, Tate Gallery; Sheffield Galleries and Museums Trust; Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum; Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen; Nürnberg, Neues Museum; Boston, Museum of Fine Arts; Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art; Minneapolis, Stedelijk Museum; New York, The Museum of Modern Art; Canberra, National Gallery of Australia; Kitasaku, Sezon Museum of Modern Art and Tokyo, The National Museum of Modern Art.