Magazine article Artforum International

Pat Steir

Magazine article Artforum International

Pat Steir

Article excerpt

Since 1989, Par Steir has remained committed to producing her signature "Waterfall Paintings," for which she pours thinned, almost aqueous oil paint in multiple layers onto a dry, primed ground so that it cascades down the canvas. Reminiscent of their namesake cataracts, these works effect--through Steir's incorporation of drips and frank homage to modernist geometries--what Matthew Guy Nichols aptly described in 2008 as a "rain shower through a Newman 'zip' painting." Others have written paeans to Steir's gravity-abetted rivulets and torrents, and most cannot help but note her engagement with natural phenomena: responses begged by her skilled, if ultimately aleatory, process and her very deliberate foregrounding of it. (One thinks of Steir's longtime mentor, Agnes Martin, in this respect, Martin being the great interpreter of her own egoless production.)

But whereas Steir's "Waterfalls" explicitly court the pictorial--even if that picture is of, as the artist puts it, the "randomness of nature"--her seven new works forgo even this roundabout connection with subject matter. The massive, incandescent '"Winter Paintings"--an ongoing series begun in 2009 that also features the pouring of pigment--are about, if anything, paint, and, indeed, the elusive possibility of deferring meaning beyond the material. Unlike her earlier, distinctly imagistic compositions, in which paint courses down the surface in clusters of lines that look, in fact, like falling water, Steir's recent canvases reveal no obvious source from which the paint begins its descent. The whole picture becomes a color field, one that perhaps suggests, to extend the analogy, the occlusion of vision by spray, but gives way to the stubborn (and presumably welcome) persistence of contour, depth, and pattern.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Owing to Steir's treatment of the paint, planes seem to convulse and release in patches. Winter Group 3: Red, Green, Blue and Gold (all works 2009-11 ), for instance, features drips of dark green on either side of the central, ziplike line, while in the gorgeous Valentine, the splashes of dark red and light red appear only at the canvas's vertical edges. …

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