International Women’s Day

Balancing the Narrative

Simplicity of Form: Unfolding Abstraction examines the development of abstract art and its seismic impact on contemporary Western Art. Of the 17 artists featured, only three are women. This is unsurprising given that at the time that this history was being written, it was from a Western and predominantly male perspective and so the most recognizable artworks associated with these movements reflect that.

It is, however, a canon which is being re-examined today in light of contemporary understanding, challenged by globalisation and inequalities in representation of both race and gender. This is illustrated by the belated recognition of overlooked female artists such as Hilma af Klint (Swedish, 1862-1944), whose large-scale abstract paintings pre-date Piet Mondrian (Dutch, 1872- 1944) by a decade yet have only been widely exhibited in recent years. She is now considered to be one of the first abstract artists.

The re-balancing of art history is underscored by the opening of the ground-breaking exhibition Hilma af Klint & Piet Mondrian at Tate Modern, London this spring, which will move to the Kunstmuseum in The Hague in the fall.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, we shine a spotlight on Bridget Riley, one of Britain’s greatest living artists, who has three artworks displayed in Simplicity of Form, illustrating both the length and breadth of her distinguished career.

Bridget Riley (British, b. 1931)

Untitled (La Lune en Rodage – Carlo Belloli)



Synonymous with the Op Art movement, British artist Bridget Riley uses dynamic patterns to make the two-dimensional picture plane vibrate, disorientating the viewer. She says, “My paintings are, of course, concerned with generating visual sensations, but certainly not to the exclusion of emotion. One of my aims is that these two responses shall be experienced as one and the same.”

In 1964, Riley was included in New Generation at the Whitechapel Gallery, London alongside David Hockney, and in the seminal exhibition The Responsive Eye at the Museum of Modern Art, New York the following year.

Bridget Riley (British, b. 1931)

Entice I

Acrylic on linen


Originally only painting in black and white, in 1967 Riley began exploring the relationship between colour and light which she translates into geometric forms that undulate across the canvas. “I couldn’t get near what I wanted through seeing, recognizing and recreating,” she says, “so I stood the problem on its head. I started studying squares, rectangles, triangles and the sensations they give rise to.”

The following year, Riley represented Britain at the Venice Biennale, where she won the prestigious International Painting Prize. She continues to experiment, and major retrospectives of her work have been held on both sides of the Atlantic in recent years, including the Hayward Gallery in London (2019) and the Yale Center for British Art in Connecticut (2022).

Bridget Riley (British, b. 1931)

Composition with Circles 1



With a focus on the ultimate reduction of form, in the early 1960s, artists such as Bridget Riley challenged the dynamism of the post-war Abstract Expressionists that had come before them. Experimenting into her eighth decade, Composition with Circles 1 (2001) marks a return to the black and white that Riley first began painting in and illustrates her fascination with precision, repetition and rhythm.

Simplicity of Form: Unfolding Abstraction is on display at BNG through to September. This exhibition is made possible thanks to the loan of artwork from the Green family.