In Veronica Gonzalez Peña’s captivating new documentary approximately the painter Pat Steir, which premiered at the New York Jewish Film Festival in advance this yr, Steir recalls an interview with the logician Sylvère Lotringer in which he remarked: “When I look at your paintings carefully, I experience that your complete profession has been a long attempt to disappear.” “It’s actual,” Steir says inside the film, adding that she has been “trying to take my ego out of the artwork and my frame out of the art. I want the artwork to explicit something inside the will of nature.”
In an awful lot of her work, Steir—whose modern-day paintings are on view in the exhibition “Pat Steir Silent Secret Waterfalls: The Barnes Series,” on the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia until mid-November—applies a mass of oil paint to the upper part of her canvases, many of which might be taller than herself, then shall we it drip. Or she throws paint at the surface, letting the marks show up by twist of fate or by a manner we’d name random layout. “My concept,” she says in the documentary, “turned into no longer to the touch the canvas, no longer to color, however, to pour the paint and allow the paint itself make a photo. I set the constraints. The limitations, of course, are the shade, the scale, the wind within the room, and how I positioned the paint on. And then the whole lot out of doors of me controls how that paint falls. It’s a joy to allow the portray to make itself. It takes away all styles of duty.”
Born in 1940, Steir grew up in Newark. She studied at the Pratt Institute—Philip Guston changed into one of her teachers—and at Boston University College of Fine Arts and commenced painting in New York. She additionally worked as an illustrator and ebook designer. The documentary takes us through the associations that have motivated her artwork beyond 1/2-century, specifically her friendships with John Cage, Sol LeWitt, and Agnes Martin, whom she visited in New Mexico every August for thirty years. Like those relationships, Steir has become interested in lessness, erasure, the concept of the aleatory photo, the gap between the planned and the unstructured, the picture subsequently emerging via a kind of chance.
As she talks about her paintings, Steir from time to time sounds tentative, ironic, or amused; but when she discusses technical subjects—how a coloration became blended or texture created—she is assured and sharp, notable and brief. When she speaks approximately being a woman artist and the special methods wherein male and lady artists are visible and valued, she clarifies how superb the war has been. “Now I’m over seventy, so I’m like an honorary man,” she says; she recalls with indignation a gallerist in New York with many lady artists on his books who had stated, years in the past, “I can get excessive great for a meager rate if I cope with ladies artists.”
In the Annenberg Court of the Barnes Foundation (the huge area wherein people line up to see the everlasting series), Steir’s monumental black-and-white artwork—all seven toes tall and ranging from about five to seventeen ft huge—cowl three walls. These eleven “Silent Secret Waterfalls” enact the falling of water and the idea of water as having its personal inner strength; however, additionally, they enact the falling of paint—the notable, luminous whiteness that Steir permits to have its personal internal existence. She is extra concerned with essences than with studies, more interested in what the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins referred to as inscape than she is in the panorama.
While it must be feasible for someone searching at these paintings to feel that they depict or propose the flowing of water downward over rock or stone, that is to miss the point of works that are involved an awful lot extra with the capability of paint than the need to symbolize something in nature. They have some of the same force. To a huge quantity, they are independent spaces powered by the visible opportunities of chance and float. This may also join them in nature: they do what a waterfall does. But as artwork, they may be dynamic in preference to completed; they came about by way of an organized coincidence, the surface isn’t settled, it’s far often fully loose, moving past the herbal phenomenon of the exhibition’s identify and attaining into the area of the visionary.
It is stunning how beautiful this white paint in opposition to a black floor seems, how fluid, how oddly patterned and animated with power. Each portrays no secret of the ways it commenced. You can see the area closer to the upper part of the work where Steir used a broom to use the dripping oil paint on the canvas. As you look at the unique ways wherein the paint flowed down, what is mysterious is how a whole lot she ought to judge the quantity and path of the drift or how a great deal the route of the paint trusted risk.
Steir’s adventure toward making the “Waterfall” artwork started within the Nineteen Eighties, whilst she was paying close interest to Japanese woodcuts and Chinese brush painting. “The Waterfall artwork,” she told Gonzalez Peña, “had been the whole thing I was hoping my paintings might be…. The less I attempted, the better the paintings have been. The extra I attempted, the extra managed and stiff they were given. In the ‘Waterfall’ artwork, the paint made the images.”
Steir has the capability to go away a portray alone, no longer to mess around too much with contours and edges. But there are instances while small info carries an ordinary emotional rate. In one of the widest paintings at the Barnes, the paint flows as within the others, making several exclusive styles, styles that, as the paint moves down the canvas, created a remarkable drama of whiteness—risky, unsure, unsettled. If you stand returned, reading the purity of the flowing white paint in opposition to the black historical past, there is an experience of grandeur approximately the paintings. But, as you pass closer, the smaller details seem to matter as a whole lot as the larger pattern.
There are, for instance, five or six fragile vertical white traces near the middle of the canvas, like wrinkles or stray marks, every no greater than an inch or in length. Against the sheer drama of flowing paint taking place around them, these marks might appear like afterthoughts. But the more you examine them, the extra they pull your eye in further, the more enigma and emotion they appear to include. They are as nothing, yet they offer us an image of frailty towards the energy and the push of what is going on around them.