In a 2001 essay titled “The Change of Aspect,” John Elderfield described the experience of looking at a Riley canvas as a series of shocks. First, viewers see her rippling surfaces not as flat objects, but as living, moving things. Then, viewers realize they’re not in control—the paintings are working on them like actors with a “choreographed programme of effects.”
Riley’s interests, however, have always resided more in art history and landscape than in illusionism and artificiality. Born in London in 1931, Riley was a disengaged student in all subjects except visual art. She spent her childhood admiring the fields and beaches in Cornwall and Lincolnshire, where she lived throughout World War II.