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Born in London in 1931, Riley attended Goldsmiths College (1949-52) and the Royal College of Art (1952-55), alongside fellow students Peter Blake and Frank Auerbach. After graduating, she taught art in schools, worked in an advertising agency, and later taught in art colleges up till 1964. Exhibitions of Jackson Pollock in London (1958), and of Futurism at the Venice Biennale (1960) stimulated the development of what was to become her signature style of ‘Op Art’, as did her studies of Seurat, and of the black and white geometry of Italian Romanesque architecture. She was to develop a practice of carefully preparing designs which assistants would execute as finished oils. She is also a published writer on Old Masters and on contemporary art, has co-curated major exhibitions on Mondrian at the Tate, and Klee at the Hayward Gallery, and was invited in 2001 to select her ‘Artist’s Choice’ exhibition at the National Gallery.

Her first solo exhibition in 1962 showed abstract works in black and white, using either fragmented or edge-to-edge wavy lines. These deliberately played with visual perception to produce an impression of continual vertical or horizontal movement which was difficult to pin down. She gradually introduced shades of grey, and then in 1967, colour into her work. A visit to Egypt in 1980-81 inspired a new palette of colours, reflecting the landscape there, and a new pattern of tessellated, oblique and curved shapes. Throughout her career her graphic work in screenprints has sometimes anticipated, and at others, mirrored her painted oeuvre. She worked closely, first, with Chris Prater at Kelpra Studio, London, and latterly with Sally Gimson at Artizan Editions, Hove. In 2012, Karsten Schubert edited the publication of her complete prints (1962-2012) for Ridinghouse, London.

Her participation in MoMA’s exhibition ‘The Responsive Eye’ featured a work of hers on the catalogue cover. It not only drew attention to the Op Art movement, but also launched a fashion craze which plagiarised her work and that of others. In 1968 she represented Britain at the Venice Biennale, together with the sculptor Phillip King, where she won the International Prize for Painting, being the first woman artist to do so. Retrospectives followed at the Hayward Gallery and the National Gallery, Prague, in 1971, and at the Hayward Gallery again and the Kunsthalle Nuremberg in 1992. In 1999 the Serpentine Gallery’s exhibition of her paintings from the 60s and 70s refocused attention on her contribution to Op Art. This was followed in 2003 by a retrospective at the Tate, and in 2014 by an exhibition of her ‘Curve Paintings 1961-2014’ at Serge Chermayeff’s Modernist masterpiece, the De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea.

 

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Biography

Exhibitions

View available works

Born in London in 1931, Riley attended Goldsmiths College (1949-52) and the Royal College of Art (1952-55), alongside fellow students Peter Blake and Frank Auerbach. After graduating, she taught art in schools, worked in an advertising agency, and later taught in art colleges up till 1964. Exhibitions of Jackson Pollock in London (1958), and of Futurism at the Venice Biennale (1960) stimulated the development of what was to become her signature style of ‘Op Art’, as did her studies of Seurat, and of the black and white geometry of Italian Romanesque architecture. She was to develop a practice of carefully preparing designs which assistants would execute as finished oils. She is also a published writer on Old Masters and on contemporary art, has co-curated major exhibitions on Mondrian at the Tate, and Klee at the Hayward Gallery, and was invited in 2001 to select her ‘Artist’s Choice’ exhibition at the National Gallery.

Her first solo exhibition in 1962 showed abstract works in black and white, using either fragmented or edge-to-edge wavy lines. These deliberately played with visual perception to produce an impression of continual vertical or horizontal movement which was difficult to pin down. She gradually introduced shades of grey, and then in 1967, colour into her work. A visit to Egypt in 1980-81 inspired a new palette of colours, reflecting the landscape there, and a new pattern of tessellated, oblique and curved shapes. Throughout her career her graphic work in screenprints has sometimes anticipated, and at others, mirrored her painted oeuvre. She worked closely, first, with Chris Prater at Kelpra Studio, London, and latterly with Sally Gimson at Artizan Editions, Hove. In 2012, Karsten Schubert edited the publication of her complete prints (1962-2012) for Ridinghouse, London.

Her participation in MoMA’s exhibition ‘The Responsive Eye’ featured a work of hers on the catalogue cover. It not only drew attention to the Op Art movement, but also launched a fashion craze which plagiarised her work and that of others. In 1968 she represented Britain at the Venice Biennale, together with the sculptor Phillip King, where she won the International Prize for Painting, being the first woman artist to do so. Retrospectives followed at the Hayward Gallery and the National Gallery, Prague, in 1971, and at the Hayward Gallery again and the Kunsthalle Nuremberg in 1992. In 1999 the Serpentine Gallery’s exhibition of her paintings from the 60s and 70s refocused attention on her contribution to Op Art. This was followed in 2003 by a retrospective at the Tate, and in 2014 by an exhibition of her ‘Curve Paintings 1961-2014’ at Serge Chermayeff’s Modernist masterpiece, the De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea.

 

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