DETAIL IN FOCUS
Made in the run-up to the XXXIV Venice Biennale (1968), where she was the first British artist (and first woman) to win the International Prize for Painting, the ‘Cataract’ series marked a defining moment in Bridget Riley’s career. ‘Colour presented a crisis for me,’ she admitted. ‘If you think of a square, a circle, or a triangle, no matter what size it may be, you know exactly what form you can expect to see.’  After six monochrome years, epiphany: ‘I saw that the basis of colour was its instability.’
In Cataract 3, a pair of coloured stripes unfurl like ribbons across the white canvas, broadening and thinning in shallow curvilinear sequences – stripes, edge-rich, maximise chromatic interaction.
Take a closer look with the zoom viewer here.
Although on a minute level these colours can be identified as vermilion and turquoise (warm and cold extremes), the painting revels in its lack of fixity.
The curves undulate diagonally, as if a gentle south-west wind were blowing across a silk sheet, but on another level light crackles at different speeds and in ungovernable directions. Pigment is transformed into an active condition, in which true engagement with the painting is to see ‘a luminous disembodied light, variously coloured’.
1. Riley in interview with Michael Craig-Martin, in Bridget Riley: Selected Paintings 1961–1999, exh. cat. (Düsseldorf: Hatje Cantz, 2000), 68.
2. Riley in dialogue with Michael Craig-Martin, in Robert Kudielka (ed.), Bridget Riley: Dialogues on Art (London: Zwemmer, 1995), 56.