Riley was born at Norwood, London, the daughter of a businessman. Her childhood was spent in Cornwall and Lincolnshire. She studied at Goldsmiths’ College from 1949 to 1952, and at the Royal College of Art from 1952 to 1955. She began painting figure subjects in a semi-impressionist manner, then changed to pointillism around 1958, mainly producing landscapes. In 1960 she evolved a style in which she explored the dynamic potentialities of optical phenomena. These so-called ‘Op-art’ pieces, such as Fall, 1963, produce a disorienting physical effect on the eye.
‘I try to organise a field of visual energy which accumulates until it reaches maximum tension’, Riley said of this work. From 1961 to 1964 she worked with the contrast of black and white, occasionally introducing tonal scales of grey. In Fall, a single perpendicular curve is repeated to create a field of varying optical frequencies. Though in the upper part a gentle relaxed swing prevails, the curve is rapidly compressed towards the bottom of the painting. The composition verges on the edge of disintegration without the structure ever breaking.
Her work is really intriguing due to optical illusion creating colour that simply isn’t there. Her piece is entirely painted black and white, and yet a multi-coloured effect takes place between the lines. Both flatness and depth is perceived which is really interesting considering it is on canvas alone. I certainly intend to take forward her use of line, and certainly the use of multi-colour effect (whether it via optical illusion or screen-printed with a variation of shades) This use of depth and shade will work wonderfully regarding creating my own work in this project, certainly as a contrast to the minimalist bold primary colours that have been seen in other looked at artists.