- Pat Steir
- Four Yellow / Red Negative Waterfall
- oil on canvas
Looking to Japanese and Chinese painting for inspiration, in particular the Yi-pin ‘ink-splashing' paintings from the eighth and ninth centuries, Steir started to loosely apply paint to canvas in a manner that evoked the form and flow of water in nature. Though eliciting the revolutionary dynamism of Jackson Pollock’s abstractions, Steir does not pour paint onto canvas laid on the floor; instead she tacks unstretched canvas to the wall and works from a ladder. She deliberately removes herself from the action and allows the paint to freely cascade down the length of the canvas, letting gravity determine the composition. In explaining her conscious choice of relinquishing control, Steir quotes the influence of the Minimalist composer John Cage: “I’ve always admired John Cage; his whole system involved chaos. I’m trying desperately to make chaos, but I make order. I try to make the chaos within the work; that’s why I depend on gravity to leave a lot of space for accident. For chaos” (Pat Steir in conversation with Anne Waldman in: BOMB 83, BOMB – Artists in Conversation, 2003, online).
In pursuit of a connection with the spiritual realm, Steir echoes the artistic practice of her good friend and mentor Agnes Martin, whom she visited in her home in New Mexico every year for nearly thirty years until Martin passed away in 2004. As Steir recalled, the genesis of her Waterfall paintings was closely linked to her fascination with the psychological and spiritual effects of colour: “When I did my first colored paintings. I had been looking at Tibetan painting[…] There’s a wonderful sense of the five Buddha families that manifest as different colors. The red would be padma, which is Sanskrit for ‘lotus’. Padma is about seduction and sunsets, and in its more neurotic aspect, it’s: Come into my world, let me seduce you, don’t be afraid” (Ibid.).