The Famous Optical Artist – Bridget Riley an Op Art Pioneer

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One of the major Optical Art (Op Art) proponents, British artist and printmaker Bridget Riley was born on the 24th of April, 1931 in London. Riley is most commonly known for her signature black and white oil paintings depicting geographic patterns that cause optical illusions which have become synonymous with the Op Art movement.

Bridget Riley was educated at the Royal College of Art from 1952 to 1955 and in these years her paintings were semi-impressionist and figurative. It was not until the 1960s that her signature style developed.

Riley’s black and white forms – painted in oil paint on canvas – gave viewers the impression of movement and colour due to optical illusions. Works such as -Movement in Squares- (1961), -Black to White Discs- (1961-62), -Loss- (1964), -Blaze 4? (1964), -Drift No. 2? (1966) and -Cataract 3? (1967) typically possessed such characteristics.

Bridget Riley’s paintings also had another feature – the potential for increased audience participation in the appreciation or display of the work of art. This was a hot topic in the 60s, when many performances were being classified as -happenings.- Happenings are unconventional and formless performances where audience involvement actually determines the course of the performance. Riley’s oil paintings were in a sense dependent on what the individual experienced on viewing them. Though the paintings were given names hinting at their subjects, they could be interpreted by the audience in any way.

Riley held the first of these exhibitions, which were pivotal in getting the world’s attention to the Op Art movement and Riley’s art, in 1965 at the Museum of Modern Art, New York City. She had already held her first solo in 1962 at Gallery One, London. Other exhibitions followed, but it was the 1965 show at New York that drew international recognition.

By 1967, Bridget Riley began to modify her style and thought of incorporating oil colour in her art. She began incorporating on colour stripes in an oil painting entitled -Paean- (1973), -Dominance Portfolio, Blue- (1977), -Ra2? (1981) and -Silvered 2? (1981). Crucial to this change was the extensive travelling she undertook from the 1970s. The hieroglyphic decorations she saw during her visit to Egypt played an important part in leading her to incorporate colour and contrast. Her later works are colourful and some of these bright paintings include -Fete- (1999), -Echo- (2000), -Carnival- (2000) and -Sylvan- (2000).

Among the other achievements of Bridget Riley is her distinction of becoming the first woman and British contemporary painter to receive the International Prize for painting at the 1968 Venice Biennale.

Using Artists Materials and supplies in a new and innovative way to pioneer a the Op Art movement in painting, Bridget Riley is undoubtedly one of Britain’s most important artists. Her geometric patterns skilfully created with Oil Paints have influenced many and have been appreciated by all sections of the audience.

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