"Pat Steir: By Chance" by Edith Newhall
Pat Steir is an acclaimed figure in contemporary art history, known for her wall drawings and signature style of abstract painting. These works are an amalgamation of a deeply personal range of art historical references, at once material explorations but also spiritual, philosophical, and poetic ones. In the studio she pours, splashes, throws, and drips paint onto vertically hung un-stretched canvases. Steir’s practice embraces chance as a conceptual backbone for her work; the paintings form themselves through gravity and transform their own palette through the chemistry of the paint layers.
Associated with Conceptual Art and Minimalism and through a close study of Eastern painting, Steir’s contemporary process was developed in the 1980’s with her acclaimed Waterfall paintings. Her early work explored floral motifs often combined with a grid or color field, blurring the dichotomy between abstract and figurative work. Steir continues to self-reflexively explore the grand history of painting in her work. In these early pieces she would sometimes utilize overt references to specific art historical gestures and styles in her depiction of flowers, sometimes negating the image with a cross in a conceptual interrogation of iconography.
After developing her iconic Waterfall series where “gravity makes the image”, Steir continued exploring the fluidity of paint with various influences from landscape painting and increasingly subtle washes of paint pours. Starting in the mid 2000’s she began making split canvases that meet at the center in a kind of “zip”—playing off of Barnett Newman’s signature style, a process she continues to develop today. Often these works paradoxically evoke a deep space and call attention to their own flat materiality, a product of the systematic series of paint pours and chance-based chemistry. Moreover, this represents her own conceptual interests akin to Chinese painting, which embody binaries in order to form a harmonious whole.
Born in 1938 in Newark, New Jersey, Pat Steir’s work is now thoroughly represented in major museum collections in the United States and in many international institutions. The artist currently lives and works in New York and Amsterdam and has been the focus of numerous solo museum exhibitions and site-specific wall installations. Steir was the recipient of a Guggenheim Artist’s Fellowship (1981), a National Endowment for the Arts Individual Artist’s Grant (1973), an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Art from Pratt Institute (1991) and a Distinguished Alumni Award from Boston Unviersity (2001). She is a founding board member of Printed Matter bookshop in New York, and the landmark feminist journal, Heresies. Her work is included in major public collections around the world, including: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY; The Museum of Modern Art, NY; The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; The San Francisco Museum of Fine Arts, CA; The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, NY; The Tate Gallery, London; the walker Art Center, MN; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, NY.