Biography for Bridget Riley CBE (1931)

Bridget Riley was evacuated during World War II with her mother and sister to a cottage in Cornwall and spent her childhood in and Lincolnshire. She was educated at Cheltenham Ladies' College. She studied art first at Goldsmiths College (1949–52), and later at the Royal College of Art (1952–55), where her fellow students included artists Peter Blake and Frank Auerbach. Her early work was figurative with a semi-impressionist style. From 1958 to 1959 she worked in an advertising agency while painting in a pointillist technique. Around 1960 she began to develop her signature Op Art style consisting of black and white geometric patterns that explore the dynamism of sight and produce a disorienting effect on the eye.

In 1965 Riley exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art New York show. In 1968 she represented Great Britain in the Venice Biennale where she was the first contemporary painter and first woman to be awarded International prize for painting. In 1999 she held a show at the Serpentine Gallery London. In 2003 she held a major retrospective at Tate Britain.

It was during this time that Riley began to paint the black and white works for which she is well known. 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. From 1961 to 1964 she worked with the contrast of black and white, occasionally introducing tonal scales of grey. 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. For example, in Fall, a single perpendicular curve is repeated to create a field of varying optical frequencies. 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. Her paintings have, since 1961, been executed by assistants from her own endlessly edited studies.

Riley began investigating colour in 1967, the year in which she produced her first stripe painting. Following a major retrospective in the early 1970s, Riley began travelling extensively. After a trip to Egypt in the early 1980s, where she was inspired by colourful hieroglyphic decoration, Riley began to explore colour and contrast.

In many works since this period, Riley has employed others to paint the pieces, while she concentrates on the actual design of her work. Some are titled after particular dates, others after specific locations (for instance, Les Bassacs, the village in the south of France where Riley has a studio).

Towards the end of the 1980s Riley's work underwent a dramatic change with the reintroduction of the diagonal in the form of a sequence of parallelograms used to disrupt and animate the vertical stripes that had characterized her previous paintings.