If I am outside in nature, I do not look for something or at things. I try to absorb sensations without censoring them, without identifying them. I want them to come through the pores of my eyes, as it were – on a particular level of their own.
From the mid-1980s, Riley’s paintings demonstrate an increasing engagement with creating an art of pure visual sensation. Her treatment of form and colour as ‘ultimate identities’, as things in themselves, echoes Matisse’s observation: ‘I want to reach that state of condensation of sensations which constitutes a picture.’ Of these developments, Riley commented: `Right up to, and in some ways, including the stripe paintings I used to build up to sensation, accumulating tension until it released a perceptual experience that flooded the whole as it were. Now I try to take sensation as the guiding line and build, with the relationships it demands, a plastic fabric which has no other raison d’etre except to accommodate the sensation its solicits.’
In concentrating on internal pictorial relationships, Riley now returned to the principle of contrast that had figured so strongly in her early work. The paintings in this room take the vertical stripe of the Egyptian paintings and disrupt this by introducing lozenge shapes. The resulting lattice effect opens up the space of the painting in new and unexpected ways. A strange, ambiguous depth is created in which planes of colour alternately advance and recede, suggesting both positive form and space. The paintings work in terms of contrasts in direction, colour, tone and density, yet these opposed elements are harmonised within the overall composition.
This concern with pure sensation also represents a deepening of the relation between Riley’s art and nature. It connects with that phenomenon of sight, sometimes encountered in nature, when colour, light and form momentarily precede interpretation and, instead, are experienced in all their purity, immediacy and freshness.