Artist Profile: Bridget Riley

1 January 2020

Bridget Riley creates dizzying abstract paintings, which generate sensations of movement, light and space. A key figure in the development of 'Op art', which used a framework of purely geometric forms as the basis for its effects, she is one of the most distinguished and world-renowned artists working in Britain today.

Early in her career it is said that Riley confessed to feeling a great sense of frustration over what it meant to be a modern painter. Inspired by the optical effects of the works of the 19th-century pointillist Georges Seurat, she began her investigation of non-figurative painting in the 1950s.

Her seminal work Movement in Squares was acquired by the Arts Council Collection in 1962, the year after it was made. Here, Riley has found her style, signifying her breakthrough into abstraction. We can see the beginnings of her interest in visual disruption and disorientation. The artist initially pondered ‘is there anything to be found in a square?’

After sketching the design in one sitting and colouring alternate black squares, she was elated by what she saw: “ I drew, things began to change. Quite suddenly something was happening down there on the paper that I had not anticipated. I continued, I went on drawing; I pushed ahead, both intuitively and consciously. The squares began to lose their original form.” The simple unit morphs across the canvas and slowly disappears into a void, as though it is being pulled from below. Twelve rows of alternating black and white squares, their height remaining the same but their width slowly diminishing, develop into an optical illusion. In the present day Riley’s black and white paintings are some of her most famous, still visually striking in the way they are choreographed.

Movement in Squares, 1961 can be seen at the Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre until 26 January 2020. Developed in close collaboration with the artist and in partnership with National Galleries of Scotland, this is the largest and most comprehensive exhibition of Bridget Riley’s work to date.



The Arts Council Collection is the UK's most widely seen collection of modern and contemporary art.

With more than 8,000 works by over 2,000 artists, it can be seen in exhibitions and public displays across the country and beyond. This website offers unprecedented access to the Collection, and information about each work can be found on this site.