In the fall of 1961, Morris Louis abruptly stopped painting the series of Unfurleds (1960–1961)—monumental works marked by banked rivulets of pure color bounding an expanse of bare white canvas—and began creating Pillar or Stripe paintings. Number 182 is an early work in Louis's third and final series, where he revived his 1960 experiments with vertical bands of pure color often called Columns.
Louis and his Washington Color School colleagues were concerned primarily with color and the visual effects of color relationships. By eliminating the Abstract Expressionists’ characteristic emphasis on gesture and use of thick pigment, they were able to give color a preeminent role in the composition. Many of the Washington artists, including Gene Davis and Kenneth Noland, explored the potential for color in the format of the stripe, but in his own Stripes, Louis created soft vertical bands of color abutting and overlapping each other to form a pillar of contained energy. The stripes tend to move and interact with one another optically depending upon their hue, placement, and value.
In Number 182, the eye rests for a brief moment on the raw sienna stripe, but is quickly drawn to the adjacent orange stripe, which vies for dominance. The image is set off-center, to the right, and the shared contour of the two colors actually marks the center of the canvas. The sienna occupies the center of the pillar. These two colors are nearly identical in value, thus optically appearing on the same plane, and both stand out from their respective adjacent yellow stripes. The orange and sienna bands are flanked by different shades of greens and blues, dividing the column into three sections, separated by yellow. While the right side is rendered flat due to the hues being close in value, the left side reveals intensely bright colors that emerge and react with each other.
Because Louis painted in solitude, little is recorded of his working methods. After his death his studio was studied for clues. It appears that he poured thinned acrylic pigment down the raw canvas, which was suspended from a high wooden stretcher. It is possible that he folded and draped the canvas fabric in order to carefully control the flow of the pigment. The color would soak into the unsized and unprimed canvas, producing a stained effect; in essence, canvas and paint bonded to become one entity.
Because of their relatively small size, the Stripe paintings were more widely exhibited than others. In 1961, the André Emmerich Gallery exhibited ten Stripe paintings, the first major showing of this series. The following year Emmerich sent Duncan Phillips five of Louis's Stripe paintings on approval, from which Phillips purchased one, Illumination, 1962. In 1963, however, Phillips replaced Illumination with Number 182, a work that clearly represents the Washington Color School.