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Bridget Riley was born on April 25, 1931 in London, England. She divides her time between a house in London’s Holland Park, a studio in Cornwall and a second studio in the Vaucluse district of Southern France, not far from the ruins of the Marquis de Sade’s castle at La Coste. She is a second-generation Londoner; one of her grandfathers worked with Edison on the invention of the light bulb and she had a great-uncle who was a founding member of the Socialist Fabian Society.

Riley received a sporadic wartime education in Cornwall. She studied at St. Stephen’s College in Taplow from 1944 to 1946 and concluded her secondary studies from 1946-48 at Cheltenham Ladies College where she was allowed to pursue exclusively her interest in art. Following that, she studied at Goldsmith’s College of Art in London and the Painting School of the Royal College of Art. She worked briefly in advertising, taught art to children at the Convent of the Sacred Heart in London from 1951 through 1958 and began to exhibit in group shows.

In 1955 Riley left the Royal College to look after her father who was recovering from an auto accident. It was a period of intense personal crisis for her, marked by artistic doubts and misgivings; it led to a mental and physical breakdown. She returned to Cornwall to rest. At the age of twenty-seven she met Maurice de Sausmarez, a painter and teacher. She traveled at his suggestion; they were close, almost inseparable until his death in 1970.

When she first showed her work in the United States, Riley’s paintings were almost synonymous with visual assault. Of all the shortest movements that agitated the art world, Op art had the briefest life. After a spurt of success in the 1960s, Riley and other Op-related artists were dismissed by American critics as emotionally shallow and intellectual lightweights. In Britain, however, she maintained her reputation as an important artist; she has moved on to work with saturated color and structure. Her work expresses her belief that repetition and restraint lead an artist to greater freedom and creativity.

Sources include:
Robert Hughes in Time Magazine, November 16, 1970 and May 12, 1975
ARTnews, January 1987
Catalogue of the National Museum of Women in the Arts
Drawing Now by Bernice Rose, Museum of Modern Art, New York
World Artists 1950-80 by Claude Marks

Compiled and written by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher of Laguna Woods, California.

Biography from the Archives of AskART.