The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Bridget Riley, Tightly Wound God of Op *

* (restored)


The main thing is …
Bridget Riley (b. 1931) is a well-known British artist celebrated since the mid-1960s for her distinctive, optically vibrant paintings. Along with Victor Vasarley, she is one the pioneers of the genre of art that later became known “Op Art.” She explores optical phenomena and juxtaposes color either by using a chromatic technique of identifiable hues or by selecting achromatic colors (black, white or gray). In doing so, her work appears to flicker, pulsate and move, encouraging the viewer’s visual tension. Riley’s vibrant optical pattern paintings, which she painted in the 1960s, were hugely popular and become a hallmark of the period. “The uncertainties of a drawn structure increase when it is composed of similar, repeated elements,” Riley has said. “Because they are small and compacted, these elements begin to fuse while they are easy to separate when they are big.” In the mid-60s, Riley spent two years copying Seurat’s painting, Bridge of Courbevoie, to learn about his painting technique and his use of complementary colors. She describes the process as “being a revelation to her” with regard to color’s secret relationship to the hues of black and white. Soon after, in 1966, Riley begins to use color as well as black and white to achieve new optical effects.

In the early 1960s, her works were said to induce sensations in viewers as varied as seasickness and sky diving. Works in this style comprised her first solo show in London in 1962 as well as numerous subsequent shows. Visually, these works relate to many concerns of the period: a perceived need for audience participation (this relates them to the Happenings, for which the period is famous), challenges to the notion of the mind-body duality which led some people to experiment with hallucinogenic drugs; concerns with a tension between a scientific future which might be very beneficial or might lead to a nuclear war; and fears about the loss of genuine individual experience in a Brave New World. In 1965, Riley exhibited in the New York City show, The Responsive Eye, the exhibition which first drew attention to so-called Op art. One of her paintings was reproduced on the cover of the show’s catalogue, though Riley later became disillusioned with the movement, and expressed regret that her work was exploited for commercial purposes.


Something she said …
‘When Samuel Beckett was a young name in the early Thirties and trying to find a basis from which he could develop, he wrote an essay known as Beckett/Proust in which he examined Proust’s views of creative work; and he quotes Proust’s artistic credo as declared in Time Regained – “the tasks and duties of a writer [not an artist, a writer] are those of a translator”. This could also be said of a composer, a painter or anyone practising an artistic metier. An artist is someone with a text which he or she wants to decipher.

‘Beckett interprets Proust as being convinced that such a text cannot be created or invented but only discovered within the artist himself, and that it is, as it were, almost a law of his own nature. It is his most precious possession, and, as Proust explains, the source of his innermost happiness. However, as can be seen from the practice of the great artists, although the text may be strong and durable and able to support a lifetime’s work, it cannot be taken for granted and there is no guarantee of permanent possession.

‘It may be mislaid or even lost, and retrieval is very difficult. It may lie dormant and be discovered late in life after a long struggle, as with Mondrian or Proust himself. Why it should be that some people have this sort of text while others do not, and what ‘meaning’ it has, is not something which lends itself to argument. Nor is it up to the artist to decide how important it is, or what value it has for other people. To ascertain this is perhaps beyond even the capacities of his own time.’

Audio: Five excerpts from a 1988 BBC interview with Bridget Riley


10 things she’s made …

Intake (1964)


Blaze 4 (1962)


Big Blue (1968)


Hesitate (1963)


Cataract 3 (1967)


Fall (1964)


Fission (1963)


Movement in Squares (1963)


Untitled (1966)


Loss (1964)


10 things in which she resonates …

Jim Isermann


Peter Schuyff


Stoner Lounge


Christopher Wool


Op Art Handball


Peter Halley


Bridget Riley Breakdown


Youri Messen-Jaschin


Linda Besemer



Answering what’s asked…

1960s Bridget Riley Talks About Jackson Pollock

1960s, Bridget Riley Explains Her Artistic Process

Bridget Riley speaks about her work

OP ART: Bridget Riley




p.s. Hey. In order to catch my Eurostar this morning, I’ll have to rush the p.s. a bit, and apologies for that. ** KeatonofC, Hi. 6 is a good number of personalities. Doable but intense. Highly recommend Ethiopian food. Singular, that stuff. Thanks for the bon re: my voyage. I’ll try, and it will too. ** David Ehrenstein, The only nominated movie I’ve seen is ‘Black Panther’. It could win, I wouldn’t mind. Ha ha, it’s true. I wonder if any aspiring astronauts are secret ABDL fetishists. ** JM, Hi. I wanted to be an archeologist for a long time when I was a little kid. Then I spent time on a dig, realised how immensely boring the hands-on part is, read Rimbaud, and that was the end of that. Space buche! ** Corey Heiferman, Hi, Corey. Wow, double taxing? That’s scary. I can’t even handle one’s. I think I’ll enjoy London, thank you. I will send your best to Michael S. And, yeah, he has always been very kind towards my work. ** Nik, Hi, N! Ha ha, yeah, it’s DC’s-like but clunkier. I saw your email, and I’ll read your piece asap. Thanks! Things with PGL are good, revving up, with lots of screenings plus the theater releases in France and the US coming up. Pay off time, hopefully. I’ve honestly really liked every Celine novel I’ve read, the later ones too. Yes, I’ve been reading some books that don’t get published until next year, and three of them are really fantastic: Richard Cheim’s ‘King of Joy’, Mark Doten’s ‘Trump Sky Alpha’, and Niven Govinden’s ‘This Brutal House’. I’m about to start another future book, Kathryn Davis’s ‘The Silk Road’, mainly because Joy Williams blurbed it. Take care, bud. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, B. That is a curious coincidence. Oh, Steven Cairns is the guy who set up the PGL screenings and who I’ve been dealing with the whole time. Cool. Yes, I will for sure say hi for you when I meet him in person today. He’s been really nice and great. Huh. ** politekid, Hey, hey, polite one! It’s cool to see you! Okay, I’ll see what our schedule is. Today I think we’ll head to the ICA soon after arriving, but, yeah it would be really nice to see you. If it’s possible on my end, I’ll alert you. Have a sweet day in any case. Thanks! ** Kyler, I don’t want to go higher off the earth than the peak of a roller coaster’s hill unless it’s a jet taking me somewhere. Heights are my enemy. One of them. Cool about knowing the real Eli. Wow. ** Steve Erickson, Hi. I haven’t heard that track, but I still hold out hope. I wish people would actually pay attention to how these social media explosion triggers cause them to stop thinking with any nuance and fall back on pre-existing, generalising assumptions and so on and so forth, but people don’t seem to want to learn anything. They just want excuses to show off their moralities and get adrenaline rushes. I find that addiction truly bizarre. Well, you could talk privately to people whose viewpoints interest you, and that would likely be very fruitful, but to try to talk about it in public where any unknown asshole can overhear and start bellowing and drowning your discussion out, I see neither the appeal nor the point. ** Misanthrope, In the morgue? The snow is history until maybe tomorrow, but I’ll be London, so who cares. No, I care. Taking it for granted is then most logical explanation, I think, knowing little about it. Hope you called the doctor and learned something curative. I’m happy you’re getting some fiction writing in there amidst all of that, obviously. ** Okay. I’m bringing back an old, formerly dead Bridget Riley post just because. I’ll be in London tomorrow, so there’ll be a post but no p.s., and I’ll see you live and ‘in person’ on Friday.


  1. I’ll never forget the big Op Art show at MOMA. Riley’s work looks nice here but it’s really something on a large canvas in a gallery.

    The films that SHOULLD win the Oscar are “BlackKklansman” and “The Green Book”

    And speaking of “Books” I’m seeing Godard’s “Le Livre des Images

  2. He seems to do ok with 4 or 5 of them lol. Nice guy, he says outloud what youre thinking before you can say it with one of them. Haha, enjoy England. I don’t what to say for London. It’s very, um Palladian? London seems a kind place. Enjoy and congratulations. Updated the blog with some stuff… blog

  3. Ah, I remember this day. Love this art, really screams the 1960’s to me.

    I was telling Misa yesterday that one reason why I very rarely post about current events on social media is because sometimes one needs to wait until more facts have emerged, or so that one can see both sides of the story. But most people just go for the knee-jerk reaction I guess.

  4. I grew up around Winter Palace, a very beautiful Bridget Riley painting in Leeds City Art Gallery. They also have Francis Bacon – Painting 1950 which is pretty good going for a provincial art space.

  5. i don’t have time to read this post just yet and won’t have time to comment with any thought when i do, but in short: today is regular HIV test day (I’ll be clean, but will reward myself with japanese patisserie food anyway), and PB&SB just threw some stuff up for sale, so I’ve flicked you a cheeky email on that front. Hope the eurostar is caught on time!

  6. Thinking of this work and works of the Pompeidu… Op Art can be extremely intense and absolutely otherworldly, even if with somewhat of a datedness sometimes. As a matter of fact some Op Art kind of causes a sort of minute cut-scene/panic attack/anxiety.

  7. It’d also help if the media (and I don’t mean just music outlets) didn’t build up pop singers and then delight in tearing them down. Declaring someone a feminist hero one month and the poster boy/girl for appropriation a few months later, all the while acting like every single they release is as important as the next election, seems like a quest for clicks, but maybe I’m too cynical.

    Obviously, a big problem with the lack of nuance is that so much political debate happens in 280-character bursts. It gets compressed into hot takes. And this might even be more true for culture. Film Twitter likes to talk a good game about celebrating diversity and promoting non-mainstream cinema, but all it did last year was unite behind hating THREE BILLBOARDS…, GREEN BOOK & THE SHAPE OF WATER and loving THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS, when it could be encouraging people to see THE IMAGE BOOK or HALE COUNTY THIS MORNING, THIS EVENING or hosting a healthy debate about those films.

  8. would you wanna do a show in Provincetown this summer?

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