Bridget RILEY<br/>
<em>Opening</em> (1961) <!-- (recto) --><br />

tempera and pencil on composition board<br />
102.6 x 102.7 cm<br />
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne<br />
Felton Bequest, 1967<br />
1791-5<br />
© Bridget Riley 2014. All rights reserved, courtesy Karsten Schubert, London

‘The eye can travel over the surface in a way parallel to the way it moves over nature. It should feel caressed and soothed, experience frictions and ruptures, glide and drift…One moment there will be nothing to look at and the next second the canvas seems to refill, to be crowded with visual events.’
Bridget Riley
Since the early 1960s, Bridget Riley has been creating paintings and prints that explore visual sensation and experience. Between 1961 and 1964 she worked only in black and white acrylic paints. She was interested in the energy and vibrations between the two tones.

Opening is the artist’s 14th black and white painting during a period in which her work incorporated basic geometric shapes, lines and dots. The diamond shape appears to hover as it weaves in and out of the repetitive parallel stripes’ (Rhodes 2003, p. 79). In the centre of the square canvas, the black and white lines part like a curtain to create the ‘opening’ that is the focal point of the painting.
Classroom discussion:

  • The titles of Riley’s paintings provide a starting point to discover different meanings and moods in her work. Describe in detail how the artist has created the idea of an ‘opening’ in this painting.
  • Think of an alternative title for this painting. Why do you think this title suits the painting?
  • Looking at Riley’s paintings has been described as ‘a physical as well as a mental activity’. What do you think this means? You might find it helpful to consider the artist’s quote above.

K. Rhodes in T. Gott, L. Benson & contributors, 20th Century Painting and Sculpture in the International Collections of the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2003.

An Art Start Literacy Activity

Language Starter Activities

Teacher Notes

Refer to our handy Glossary of Literary Terms for definitions and examples
Read our Art Start The Art of Language Introduction
Look through the Art Start Image Bank
Where not otherwise stated these activities can be undertaken by students in pairs, small groups or individually, depending on the teachers’ individual curriculum requirements.

Group Activity: LOOKING

Instructions for students

  • What are your first thoughts when you look at this work?
  • Discuss the images, experiences and music of which you are reminded.

Synonym Challenge

  • Brainstorm and share a list of key words suggested by the painting. For example: black, white, gaps, square, stripe.
  • Choose two of these words and see who can find the most synonyms for each. For example: stripe, bar, slit, line, chord.
  • Record all the words generated by the class.

Symbols – the Meaning of Black and White

What might black and white symbolise? As a class, brainstorm and list ideas. For example: black could symbolise death, night, ignorance, the universe.

Responding to Art Writing Projects

Teacher Notes

Students discuss the messages, meanings and mood of Opening, 1961.
This project requires as background information:


Poetry is like art – it allows us to see something in a different way. Its impact can be powerful and immediate.

A poem is a painting that is not seen;
A painting is a poem that is not heard
Phoebe Hesketh, A poem is a Painting, Page 7, Picture Poems, Benton, M and P, Hodder and Stoughton, 1997

  • Using this quote as a starting point, discuss and document ways in which art and poetry may be similar.

Acrostic Poetry

  • Create an acrostic poem using the title of the painting.
  • Take each consecutive letter of the word ‘opening’ and use it to start a line of poetry that describes the artwork.
    For example:
    Optical tricks confuse our eyes
    Parallel lines in profusion……

Poetry from Multiple Viewpoints

Teacher Notes

Activity inspired by From a picture by Bridget Riley, Nick Dunning, Painting with words, Benton M and P, Hodder and Stoughton, 1995

  • List people from different walks of life. Now imagine and describe how they would view the painting. For example: to a musician it might resemble funky jazz whereas a prisoner may be reminded of jail bars or a shopper a bar code.
  • Create a poem using your ideas.

For example:

‘To a dancer an illuminated stage
To a doorman
Never ending stairs
To a child a licorice filled candy store
To a mathematician
Perfect symmetry.
To a magician
Another illusion
To a lioness
Her next meal’

This poem is by a Middle Years student

  • As an alternative, you could experiment with the following format – add an alliterative adjective to describe each person (listed previously) and find synonyms to replace the word ‘sees’. For example:
    ‘The delicate dancer sees…
    The dour doorman stares at …
    The cheery child spies …..
    The methodical mathematician focuses on perfect symmetry
    The mysterious magician perceives……..
    The languorous lioness peers at ……….’

Shape Poem Activity

  • Brainstorm a list of shapes found in Opening, 1961, such as square, diamond, thin rectangles.
  • Use the words generated in the Language Starters Synonym Challenge, to fill in the shapes suggested to create a shape poem.

Presenting and Performing Projects

Poetry Reading Activity

The earliest poems were not written down, due to low levels of literacy. Instead, they were performed aloud. Volume, speed of reading, body language (including sometimes dramatic gestures), and pauses were all used in performances to keep the audience enthralled. Consider these aspects of performance before engaging in the activity below.

In small groups or as a class create and or film a performance of the poetry generated by the Responding to Art Writing Projects Poetry from Multiple Viewpoints Activity. Consider performing the poems with several speakers, wearing costume or accompanying the readings with illustrations of the poems.

Matching Art and Nature Activity

  • Bridget Riley has suggested that her works reflect the rhythms and energy of nature.
  • Discuss and list the ways Opening, 1961 reminds you of energy in nature.
  • Research the work of the artist.
  • Working in small groups, choose five of her paintings and create artworks, take photographs or collect images that depict an image of nature that you believe matches each artwork.
  • Create a PowerPoint presentation for your class with a commentary that explains the connection between your images and her paintings.