Pat Steir is an American painter whose monumental, gestural Abstract Expressionist paintings were informed by Taoist and Buddhist philosophies. For the past thirty years she has created a continuing series of monumental “Waterfall” paintings.
Steir studied at New York’s Pratt Institute from 1956-1958 and then at Boston University College of Fine Arts from 1958-1960. Returning to Pratt, she received her B.F.A. in 1962. She lived with the conceptual artist Sol LeWitt through the 1970s and became friends with other conceptual artists, one of whom was Agnes Martin. Martin became a friend and mentor, whom Steir visited yearly in New Mexico for thirty years until 2004, the year of Martin’s death.
Steir was one of the founding members of the 1970s feminist collective Heresies but was against the movement’s emphasis on using feminist imagery in art. “I became an artist against all odds, and nobody was going to tell me what imagery is good for me.”
In the late 1980s, Steir began her dripped, splashed, and poured works embracing an element of chance. Her first black & white “Waterfall” painting from 1990 now hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She made it by pouring buckets of pigment, thinned with turpentine, down the canvas in many layers. Ancient Chinese painting techniques, especially the works of the “ink-splashing” painters of the eighth and ninth centuries, helped to inform her “Waterfall” series, which gained her acclaim and recognition. These works, created by splashing, pouring, and dripping pigments onto canvas, were inspired by the relationship between man and nature and the concept of allowing elemental forces to actively assist in creating her paintings. She would first paint and then let gravity take over, with the results no longer totally in her hands.
Steer has been quoted as saying that she desires to destroy images as symbols by creating the image, then crossing it out, breaking down each brush stroke and texture into its own image. Long ago she wrote “Remember me” across some of her drawings. She also wrote “To make my mark.” She acknowledges satisfaction in her work and her life when she says, “I’ve succeeded in finding a life I wasn’t expected to have.”
In 1991, she received an Honorary Docorate from Pratt Institute, and in 2008 Pratt gave her an Alumni Achievement Award. In 2016, she was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Her work has been in retrospectives and exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum, Baltimore Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts in Bern, and the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston. Her work has been commissioned for the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia recently. When that is completed, Steir will be working on her largest site-specific commission for the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington. Other work of hers can be found in the public collections of the Metropolitan Museum, MoMA, Whitney Museum, Guggenheim Museum, and Tate London among others.