Categories: Cathy Breslaw, THE BUZZ

THE BUZZ: The Serene Artistic Symphony of Pat Steir’s ‘Painted Rain’

Hauser & Wirth, West Hollywood, CA
Through May 4th, 2024

March 19, 2024

by Cathy Breslaw

© Pat Steir Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth Photo: Grace Roselli

New York City artist Pat Steir, reflecting on her latest series Painted Rain commented: When I think of LA now, I think of the sky and the ocean even more than the light, and that’s the origin of my latest work.

The expansive and tall white-walled spaces and skylights at Hauser & Wirth are a natural environment for Steir’s 14 large scale oil paintings. The ample space is optimal for viewers to absorb their delicate complexity. This painting series originated from Steir’s recollection of time spent teaching at CalArts in California during the 1970’s. For anyone who has visited or lived in California, and experienced its’ familiar vast ocean and sky landscapes, it is easy to ‘enter’ Steir’s paintings – the background variations of mostly blues and blue-greens envelope our senses as we examine the detailed and sometimes very subtle paint drips. Steir has a very deliberate painting technique and process that she has consistently used for several decades.

Steir makes her process look easy, but it is anything but, as she moves between letting go of the drips and controlling the paint. Horizontal wide brushstrokes move from thick to thin at the top edge of the canvas to reveal the subtly textured backgrounds of often analogous colors. As in her well-known Waterfalls series of the 1980’s, her works appear as abstract distilled landscapes where the viewer can fill in the spaces with their imaginations.

Installation view, ‘Pat Steir. Painted Rain,’ Hauser & Wirth West Hollywood 28 February – 4 May 2024 Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Jeff McLane

Steir’s process begins by using a Renaissance-inspired technique called Verdaccio where she primes her canvases in green, giving the backgrounds a glow that radiates through the works. On top of the ground, she overlays a grid of chalk lines which remain visible in some paintings and not in others. The chalk lines lay a grid-like foundation for her compositions. A scissor-lift brings her close to the top of her canvas where she uses a broad brush to paint strokes across the horizontal edge with thinned-down paint. With defined basic parameters, she allows chance and the weight of gravity to guide the paint drips as they meander down to the bottom of the canvas and onto the floor. The paint flows down in what appears like fingers of river streams or gentle rain down the canvas surfaces.

Known for her minimal painting and printmaking, Steir seems to use an intuitive, meditative and repetitive approach to creating her work. There is a connection to Chinese landscape painting, the Minimalism works of artist Agnes Martin and the work of Abstract Expressionist painter Jackson Pollack. While Pollack’s work is physical in approach, and termed ‘action painting’, Steir’s process of drips and brushwork is slower, with a more intentional approach and limited color palette.

Pat Steir. Blue 2022-23 Oil on canvas 243.8 x 213.4 cm / 96 x 84 in Photo: Elisabeth Bernstein

The compositions of Steir’s paintings on view have similarities – most have backgrounds of variations of blues and greens while the centers have imagery that are abstract and portrait-like as the viewer’s eye cannot help but stare into the center – where her multi-colored horizontal brushstrokes and connecting drips flow to the bottom edge of most paintings.

Whether they refer to sunrises or sunsets, ocean or sky these paintings though large in scale feel intimate and personal.  Over the decades Steir has developed a particular painting language all her own -delicate and graceful, allowing chance and gravity to intervene.

In an interview in The Brooklyn Rail, (March, 2011) Steir statesAll of my work is a search and an experiment. I don’t consider anything finished, I think of it all as only a step along the way.

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