Bridget Riley: A Pioneer in Optical Art

Color, line, movement, and pattern. What’s not to love about Bridget Riley? Born in 1931, she’s one of the pioneers of Optical Art that is, making art out of optical illusions. At the onset of her artistic career, Riley was known for her bold, black and white pieces, but began experimenting with color after a trip to Egypt in the 1960’s, where she was inspired by the colorful hieroglyphics and couldn’t help but explore color in her optical art.


However, Riley wasn’t always an optical artist. It took many years for her to figure out her true style. She began drawing while attending school at a young age, but felt that she couldn’t break free from the institutional expectations of art, and so didn’t experiment much.

However, her childhood in England was very free, and she would watch the sunsets

from the cliffs of Dover, which she claimed had a lasting impact on how she visually received the world. Later in her career as an art teacher to girls ages 8-18, she would encourage her students to pay attention to what they were seeing instead of blindly copying images from the world.


Riley didn’t begin really exploring Op Art until her thirties, before there was even such a thing as Op Art. Riley was on the vanguard of artists who delighted in “tricks of the eye” that were rich in movement. She began introducing color into her compositions slowly and cautiously, and by the 1990’s, she was treating colors as their own separate entities, with their own meanings that had to be placed carefully within a piece.

Now Bridget Riley is in her eighties, and she is still alive and well, and still working. Each of her compositions are very large, and it takes her 6 – 9 months to complete each painting, partly because of the extreme precision it takes to produce Optical Art, but also because she allows each piece to naturally evolve, bit by bit.

Bridget Riley is a great inspiration for her tenacity, work ethic and innovation. It is never too late to try something new and explore what lies within us. Let us take Bridget Riley’s example to heart and create something new, bold, fresh and invigorating!

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