Bruce Riley makes paintings for a living. He was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, USA in the early 1950s. Looking back in his childhood seems like a dream spent mostly in the small woods at the end of his street. Where they explored the woods building camps and treehouses. This period of unstructured freedom is probably the foundation of what he does now.

The music and culture of the late sixties and early seventies had a big influence on his art and reading. During this time of liberation and enlightenment, Bruce Riley began to study the painter's materials and methods using libraries and museums. The physicality of the craft of painting began to take on an importance that is the driving force behind how he paints.

By 1980, he was working free-lance with uninterrupted periods in the studio interspersed with hitchhiking and backpacking. Bruce Riley spent over a decade doing seasonal work as a raft guide and kayaking in West Virginia. 

The biggest highlight of Bruce Riley's career has been to paint full-time. The next biggest highlight would be a five-minute documentary made about his painting. That film was a Vimeo staff pick ad and continues to expand across the internet. It was the catalyst that started a new series for the filmmakers focusing on creative people. 

Bruce Riley’s art shows you how to go with the flow…like life should be lived and experienced. Without so much unnecessary concerns, worries, and assumed realities.  It is that mixture of a versatile unlived reality that we carry deep inside. We forget about the significance of our everyday life, of experiencing every day to the fullest, of smelling a flower, of hugging the wind with our eyes closed, of seeing the moon at least once a month.  His art reminds us that everything simply is and that beauty -you create it, beauty -you accept it.  Bruce Riley’s works of art takes us to endless dreams that long to be lived by you.

Q. What is your philosophy in matters of art?

A. Keep it in the moment. Let what is happening on the panel define direction as much as intent.

Q. Do you remember the first piece of art you made? What was it and how old were you? What's shaped your artistic journey since then?

A. No memory of my first piece of art. I have had this persistent need to make art that I would describe as a vision. It's not something that I can easily describe. My art is everything all at once known and unknown. That is probably the closest I can come to a description. It is an open porous state of being that I look at when I paint.

Q. What styles and artistic movements are reflected in your painting?

A. I do not consciously reference other artists or movements. I am attracted to the expressive quality of outsider art. I like art that is made by people that are compelled to create. That type of art is always recognizable regardless of the time or style it was made in.

Q. What has been the work that has marked you the most?

A. Paintings from the Renaissance probably had the biggest influence on my art. It was the mystical component of Renaissance painting that attracted me the most. Hundertwasser and that Viennese school was influential. But I was also looking at Monet, Bonnard, Goya, Redon, surrealists...the list is pretty endless. There was always someone new to me that caught my attention.

Q. If your works could talk ... What would they say about the artist?

A. My works would say I have been the perfect willing conduit for bringing a singular vision to fruition. Bruce has been true to our dictates, never compromising or conforming to external forces.

Q. What does 'success' mean to you?

A. Success is to do as I please and that is to have a self-sustaining studio practice.

Q. What does your work aim to express? 

A. I see my work as a pure expression with a hint of definition. For me to define or say something is reductive. It limits the scope of the inquiry. The definitions in my paintings are never "what I am trying to say."  For instance, I just finished a painting that is 8' x 4' (244 cm x 122 cm). The painting can hang in four possible orientations. It has four titles. The main horizontal orientation is called "Binary Breakdown."  This view has elements that resemble male and female genitalia with an almost chaotic mass of color and shape suspended above. The title was given when the painting was complete. It was not an influence during the making. Although the title speaks of an analog plurality of gender definition as opposed to strict duality, I would not say the painting is about that. The other horizontal orientation is titled "Cosmic Mapping". The two vertical orientations are; John Carpenter (the movie director) and Mr. Motley (a character from China Miéville's Perdido Street Station). These titles have strong associations with the visual contents of the painting. To know and define is an anthropomorphic view of the universe. I prefer to keep things open so transhuman elements can enter my explorations.

Q. Apart from making art, what do you love doing?

A. I like working with sound and I like physical activity.

Q. What advice would you give to the next art-generation?

A. Stay true to your vision and own the work you make. There is no other person that can make the art you make. To quote Martha Graham, "There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others."


This award-winning short documentary features the work of Chicago-based resin painter, Bruce Riley. Bruce is a hardworking artist who uses layers of psychedelic chemical reactions and paint sealed with resin to create his art.

Credit to the video The Thread.