From the time she eradicated colour from her palette in 1961 with her landmark Kiss, up until 1967, Bridget Riley was an explorer of the world of perception thorough the execution and repetition of simple shapes and forms in monochromatic black and white. Using ingeniously constructed spatial relationships, playing with how the eye is affected by different arrangements of positive and negative space, she tested the boundaries of visual perception, making the surfaces of her works appear to shimmer, buckle, heave and twist in a spectrum of disorientating optical effects.
“I had to give visual sensation more rein – my black-and-white paintings had been about states of being, states of composure and disturbance, but when I introduced colour in 1967 this began to change. Colour inevitably leads you to the world outside...in the late 1960s I was beginning to find my way with a whole host of sensations to do with colour.”
The Artist in 1995, cited in: London, Tate Gallery, Bridget Riley (exh. cat.) 2003, p. 19.
In 1967 Riley began to re-introduce colour to her paintings. Having always placed high importance on creativity, it was natural for the artist to move into experimenting with the sensory possibilities that came with the use of colour and tone, having fully exhausted the possibilities available in black and white. This focus on the inventiveness of her pieces was one of the reasons she began in the early 1960s to outsource the final execution of her large scale canvases to studio assistants, only physically working on the numerous studies and drawings behind each piece. Rather than coming into each piece with a concept in mind, she would work on several drawings and studies to discover the effect that resulted- and this was in a sense the act of creation. By then separating herself from the final canvas, she distinguishes between the inspiration of the idea and the workmanship associated with the final creation.
Riley debuted her colour works at the 34th Venice Biennale where she represented Britain alongside Philip King. Together with her black and white works, Riley exhibited three large scale colour canvases, Chant 2 (Sold in these rooms, 1st July 2008, lot 5, for £2,561,250), Late Morning, now housed in the permanent collection of Tate, London, and Cataract 3, in the British Council Collection, as well as several preparatory drawings and studies. The Venice show was an outstanding critical success, Riley winning the prestigious International Painting Prize, making her the first living British painter and the first woman to have this accolade conferred upon her.