Pat Steir: NY Review of Books

In Veronica Gonzalez Peña’s fascinating new documentary about the painter Pat Steir, which premiered at the New York Jewish Film Festival earlier this year, Steir recalls an interview with the philosopher Sylvère Lotringer in which he remarked: “When I look at your work closely, I feel that your entire career has been a long effort to disappear.” “It’s true,” Steir says in the film, adding that she has been “trying to take my ego out of the art and my body out of the art. I want the paintings to express something in the will of nature.” 

In much of her work, Steir—whose latest paintings are on view in the exhibition “Pat Steir Silent Secret Waterfalls: The Barnes Series,” at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia until mid-November—applies a mass of oil paint to the upper part of her canvases, many of which are taller than herself, then lets it drip. Or she throws paint at the surface, letting the marks happen by accident or by a process we might call random design. “My idea,” she says in the documentary, “was not to touch the canvas, not to paint, but to pour the paint and let the paint itself make a picture. I set the limitations. The limitations, of course, are the color, the size, the wind in the room, and how I put the paint on. And then everything outside of me controls how that paint falls. It’s a joy to let the painting make itself. It takes away all kinds of responsibility.”