Pat Steir

1940 | Newark, United States
Pat Steir — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

© Eric Boman

— Lévy Gorvy Gallery

American painter.

Over the course of her education at the Pratt Institute and then the Boston University College of Fine Arts, Pat Steir studied under Philip Guston and Richard Lindner. She first worked as an illustrator, graphic designer, and became friends with well-known conceptual artists such as Sol LeWitt, Lawrence Weiner, and others. Her meeting with Agnes Martin (1912-2004) left a deep impression on her, and as a result she turned to a brand of abstraction that did not exclude reality. Apart from her pictorial practice, she also worked in publishing: from very early on, she was hired by feminist magazines, including Heresies and Semiotext(e). Her paintings act as an inquiry into the nature of painting itself. She creates series focused on landscapes and self-portraits that she periodically revisits. For example, Waves and Waterfalls (1982-1992), Summer Moon (2005), Gold and Silver Moon Beam (2006), Water & Stone (2010), are nods to the landscapes of Courbet, Turner, and Hokusai. Their numerous vertical lines, produced by as many evenly-spaced drips, echo Jackson Pollock’s dripping technique. In the famous Waterfalls series, the artist dilutes the oil paint, which streams down from the top of the painting to the ground. About Steir’s self-portraits, Denys Zacharopoulos wrote: “Self-Portrait is not a painting and does not depict a face, her face in any kind of way. This plural expression, reversible, equivocal, changing, at one with time, proliferates into an infinity of others in space, her shape-shifting and mercurial being, both enveloping and enveloped, is the “self-portrait (Pat Steir, 1990)”.

Steir’s work raises questions about image, sign, and symbol: Deviations and Variations (1973) is a grid in which every part is occupied by a cross, a bird, or a black square. Inspired by the common ground covered by conceptual artists, she elaborates a form of painting that includes colour charts, as well as words and images. By doing so she lends her work an indelibly poetic tone. In 1981, she began a series of flower paintings. In The Brueghel Series (A Vanitas of Style) (1982-1984), she finds inspiration from Jan Brueghel the Elder: the composite image of a flower vase is cut up into several little rectangles, which are arranged in order to form a structure of huge rectangles. Arranged in a grid, certain panels are composed of eight rectangles by eight, others, four by four; the larger ones amount to incredibly vibrant paintings, the others are resolutely polychromatic. Through the grooves inserted between the parts, she undertakes a new meditation on “vanity” as a path. Due to this use of images in the manner of a puzzle, Steir situates herself halfway between meditative painting and constructivism. Her work is entirely made up of these syntheses between different forms and eras of painting. In the late 1980s, she developed her splashed and poured “waterfall” technique. She associates the pattern resulting from the movement of the pigmented material with the image of the waterfall (Waterfall Painted with the Chinese in Mind, 1987). Part fine outline and part materiality of the drip, she arrived at a precarious balance, which makes these paintings true spaces for meditation. In 1993, the Elective Affinities series, inspired by Goethe’s novel, also made use of the Waterfall principle. She claims to not distinguish between the process that leads to abstraction and the one that leads to figuration. After having painted in grey hues, Steir progressively reintroduced the use of colour.

All of her work functions on the principle of the series and variation. Opacity and transparency, dynamism and simplicity are reconciled in her paintings: as demonstrated for example, in Sixteen Waterfall of Dreams, Memories and Sentiments, in the 1990s. In her recent works (Moons and a River, 2004), she continues her research in large vibrant paintings, obtained by applying subtle colours such as yellow and white. Some of her output, such as Sun Moon, attain a near invisible whiteness, while Black Moon covers the entire canvas in black. In the Blue River series, very large horizontal formats are divided into several colour blocks, with blue dominating the central section.

Marion Daniel

Translated from French by Toby Cayouette.

From the Dictionnaire universel des créatrices
© 2013 Des femmes – Antoinette Fouque
© Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions
Linked article
Linked themes
Discover other artists

of Women Artists
& Exhibitions

Facebook - AWARE Twitter - AWARE Instagram - AWARE
Villa Vassilieff - 21, avenue du Maine 75015 Paris (France) — info[at]aware-art[.]org — +33 (0)1 55 26 90 29