British optical-artist Bridget Riley has long been championed for her use of colour and shape to deceive the eye, most recently in her large-scale solo exhibition at the Hayward Gallery that closed this past January. But for many, the first time they will have heard of her is in a classroom. Her works have been used by dozens of schools across the country to teach children about artistic principals and create their own frameworks for experimentation.
For starters, the initial appeal of visual deception is enough to capture the attention of anyone, at any age, but can be used as a valuable tool for introducing the importance of perspective outside of portraiture or life drawing. Many of her works illustrate how manipulations of linear perspective can trick the eye into seeing three-dimensional shapes, a far more enticing advocate for understanding how to create, or manipulate, two-dimensional planes.
Secondly, because of the rigid structure and reliance on graph-like topography, they are easily replicable in style, making them an accessible entry point for younger, less dexterous students. The playfulness and comprehensibility of her seemingly magical work opens, rather than closes doors, for young artists, in a way that encourages experimentation and mastery of skill.
Thirdly, her pairing of warm and cool colors introduces a third element: color theory. Their relationship to each other, and Riley’s attention to the use of color in particular countries, is a rich starting point for literal and figurative conversations about temperature in the visual world. If you’re interested in talking to the children in your life about Bridget Riley, there are plenty of resources just a Google away, but one place to look would be the Tate Kids website, where you’ll find works, activities, and images to start what could become a very colorful conversation.