Bridget Riley was born in Norwood, London. Her father, John Fisher Riley, was a printer and owned his own business. He relocated his firm and the family to Lincolnshire in 1938 and when the Second World War broke out a year later, he was drafted into the army. While on active duty, he was captured by the Japanese and forced to work on the Siamese railway. He survived, but Riley remembers he was never the same. She recalls how "he had learned to live in a self-contained way, to isolate himself from what was around him."
During the war years, Riley was sent with her mother, sister, and aunt to live in Cornwall, near the seaside town of Padstow. While she was there, she was given a great deal of freedom. Later she would claim that these early experiences roaming the countryside, spending hours watching cloud formations and the shifting light throughout the day, strongly informed her artistic practice.