For six decades, Bridget Riley has conducted one of art history’s most extensive investigations into the behaviour of colour and form. Emerging in conjunction with the Op Art movement during the 1960s, her paintings offer profound revelations about the workings of human perception.
Born in 1931, Riley spent much of her childhood in Cornwall. Living by the sea, she developed a lasting sensitivity to the changing effects of light upon the landscape. Riley studied at Goldsmiths College and the Royal College of Art in London. She was fascinated by the work of the Pointillists — particularly Georges Seurat — and produced a number of early artworks in homage to their chromatic discoveries. Riley also drew inspiration from Claude Monet, Henri Matisse, the Futurists and the optical illusions of Victor Vasarely.
Riley came to prominence with her series of black and white paintings. Her seminal work Movement in Squares (1961) created a dazzling sensation of motion through its precise choreography of gradated forms. Riley would continue to explore this effect using a variety of different shapes, giving rise to major paintings such as Blaze I (1962), Fission (1963), Fall (1963), Hesitate (1964) and Current (1964). Capturing the zeitgeist of 1960s London, these works propelled Riley onto the international stage. In 1965, she featured in the landmark group exhibition The Responsive Eye at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
In 1967, a ground-breaking group of paintings — including Chant 2 and Cataract 3 — announced Riley’s transition to colour. By sequencing different hues through uniform structures, she was able to study their reactions, observing the complex prismatic spectrums that emerged in the spaces between them. Riley initially worked with stripes, before embracing curves for much of the 1970s. Inspired by a trip to Cairo in 1979, she returned to stripes once more, adopting a distinctive group of colours that she dubbed her ‘Egyptian palette’.
From 1986, paintings such as Gaillard (1989) and Shadow Play (1990) explored rhomboid forms known as ‘zigs’. By 1997, these shapes had begun to dissolve again into fluid curves, with later paintings returning to structures including stripes, circles and triangles.
Christie’s has long led the market for Riley’s artworks. Notable sales include Untitled (Diagonal Curve) (1966), which set a new world record for the artist in 2016. In 2022, Gala (1974) broke the record yet again, selling for £4,362,000.
Series 35. Olive added. Red and blue first two color twist. Violet and green second two color twist. Reverse diagonal