Zacharopoulos Denys (ed.), Pat Steir, exh. cat., Musée d’art contemporain, Lyon (23 February – 20 April 1990), Lyon, Musée d’art contemporain, 1990→
Yau John (ed.), Pat Steir : Dazzling water, dazzling light, exh. cat., Selby Gallery, Sarasota ; Butler Institute of American Art, Youngston ; Des Moines Art Center ; Lyman Allyn Museum of Art, New London, (janvier – octobre 2000), Seattle/London, University of Washington Press, 2000→
Drathen Doris von, Pat Steir : paintings, Milan, Charta, 2007
Pat Steir, Musée d’art contemporain, Lyon, 23 février – 20 avril 1990→
Pat Steir: New Paintings, Texas Gallery, Houston, 15 November – 17 December 2005→
Pat Steir: Drawing Out of Line, Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, 2010
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.
Pat Steir, Smaller Yellow on Blue Waterfall, 1992, oil on canvas, 304.8 x 213.7 cm, 120 x 84 in., © Pat Steir
Pat Steir, Nabaye Tabastan for L., T., and R., 1974, oil on canvas, 213.4 x 213.4 cm, 84 x 84 in., collection of The Museum of Modern Art, New York, © Pat Steir
Pat Steir, Tyne International Panorama (Panel 2, detail), 1990, oil on canvas, 5 panels; 335.3 x 365.8 cm, 132 x 144 in. each, collection of Candy and Tim Johnson, Sun Valley, ID, © Pat Steir
Pat Steir, Tyne International Panorama (Panel 4, detail), 1990, oil on canvas, 5 panels; 335.3 x 365.8 cm, 132 x 144 in. each, collection of Candy and Tim Johnson, Sun Valley, ID, © Pat Steir
Pat Steir, Dragon Tooth Waterfall, 1990, oil on canvas, 233.7 x 336.6 cm, 92 x 132 1/2 in., © Pat Steir
Pat Steir, The Brueghel Series (A Vanitas of Style) Polychrome, 1982-1984, oil on canvas, 64 panels, each 72.4 x 57.2 cm, 28 1/2 x 22 1/2 in., © Pat Steir
Pat Steir, Curtain Waterfall, 1991, oil on cotton duck, 351.8 x 295.9 cm
138 1/2 x 116 1/2 in., collection of National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., gift of Mr. and Mrs. Barney A. Ebsworth, © Pat Steir
Pat Steir, About the Black I, 2007, oil on canvas, 323.2 x 276.9 cm, 127 1/4 x 109 in., collection of Narciso Rodriguez, © Pat Steir
Pat Steir, Winter Group 3: Red, Green, Blue and Gold, 2009-2011, oil in canvas, 334.3 x 336.2 cm, 131 5/8 x 132 3/8 in., collection of The Museum of Modern Art, New York, donated in Honor of Agnes Gund, © Pat Steir
Pat Steir, Naples Yellow and Mica, 2013, oil on canvas, 335.3 x 335.3 cm, 132 x 132 in., collection of Los Angeles County Museum of Art, LA MoCA, © Pat Steir