Jan Hendrik Riske was born on the Voorstraat in Dordrecht on 21 June 1932, the second of eight children, to Hendrik ad Francine Riske. This father was a lead-light glazier who wanted to become an artist but had been discouraged by his staunchly Protestant family. Jan attended a private Montessori school in Dordrecht and was encouraged to draw by his father. From the age of fourteen he began to draw seriously and visited the Dorrecht Museum frequently. There he attracted the interest of it’s Director Dr. Laurens J Bol, who assisted him to gain financial support from the Schefferfonds (Ary Scheffer Fund) to study at the Academie van Beeldende Kunsten (Academy of Fine Arts) in Rotterdam.

In 1952, after completing his studies at the Academy, Riske decided to follow his elder brother, Theo, to Australia, foregoing an opportunity to study art further in Munich. He settled in Hobart, Tasmania, but initially worked in mining towns on the west coast. Most of his family also migrated to Australia, but his parents eventually returned to the Netherlands. For a time he travelled around rural Queensland drawing portraits for a living. On his return to Hobart, he found studio space so that he could concentrate on his art. Visiting Melbourne, he introduced himself to Eric Westbroek, Director of the National Gallery of Victoria, who purchased an early abstract painting Autumn 1954 for the collection. Stan de Teliga, artist and Curator of Art at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery in Hobart, and Riske became friends and subsequently exhibited together at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery in Launceston. Riske’s first solo exhibition at OBM Gallery, Hobart, followed in 1958.