During his lifetime, Riley won numerous awards, including three New England Exhibition prizes, three given by the New Haven Paint and Clay Club, a first and second prize in the Fairfield University Invitational, and three Soule awards in Bridgeport Art League exhibitions.
When asked what his influences have been, he replied the great master, Leonardo, Michelangelo, we're all influenced by them. I lean towards draftsman." The redrawing or corrections in old master drawings were very exciting to him. "It became a natural development and discovery in my own drawings. Later I felt there might be a possibility of using the redrawing and superimposing to bring about another dimension; it just evolved. I feel art is a universal kind of communication; you don’t have to have the knowledge of languages if you can draw; this is the very beginning, in a sense, of writing."
Riley maintained that he approached one of his tight, skillfully drafted compositions using the open-ended attitude of an abstract, action painter. This paradox is emphasized by the artist's desire to "let go and allow the work to dictate itself."
During his lifetime, Bernard Riley completed more than 200 works in a variety of media including oil, acrylic, etchings and pen and ink drawings. His paintings are in many private collections and and also in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum, the Corcoran Gallery, the Municipal Court Building in Washington DC, the Veterans Hospital in New Haven Connecticut, the Bridgeport (CT) Museum of Art, Science and Industry, St. Vincent’s Hospital in Bridgeport, and Fairfield University.
There is a genuine quality about Bernard Riley that penetrates into his art and life. This refreshing authenticity is joined to the warmth he exudes in his contact with friends and colleagues. Knowing Riley's life and work becomes an unstated prerequisite for comprehending his art, for the character of this gentle man is revealed in his cavalcade of harlequins, saints, street urchins, muses, wizened prophets, and Renaissance condottiere.
Riley's work has its moral character ingrained into its substance like the concentric rings of an oak tree. Everything about his life indicates this force. As an artist, Riley developed by way of a strenuous route. There were no boarding schools, private art instruction, nor grand tours of the continent for this career. Instead, Riley discovered his talents through trial and error. Nurtured by the gritty realities of the real world, Riley utilized his experiences to toughen the content of his work. He was self-taught and self-realized.
Will Riley’s art —which has been so much a part of Bridgeport and Fairfield where he lived—be considered masterpieces of the 20th century? Some art historians think so. Alan Chalk, a neighbor, friend and photographer of Riley at work said "His art has been recognized locally during his lifetime. The true artistic achievement still remains to be judged."