Pat Steir, quoted in: Thomas McEvilley, Pat Steir, Cambridge 1993, p. 68.
Tyne Panorama 1 is an immersive and monumental work from Pat Steir’s body of idiosyncratic Waterfall paintings. Executed in a monochromatic palette of fluid and diaphanous white paint against an abyssal black ground, the present work is a classic example from this celebrated series; indeed, dated to 1990, it narrates the very apex of Steir’s acclaimed oeuvre.
Steir arrived on the New York art scene in the 1970s in time for the afterglow of Abstract Expressionism and the height of Minimalism. Having spent a decade experimenting with a host of different influences and styles, she began creating her Waterfall paintings during the late 1980s. Combining the paroxysmal materiality of Jackson Pollock’s canonical drip paintings with a distinctly meditative technique derived from the ancient Chinese practice of Yi-pin ‘ink-splashing', Steir’s Waterfall paintings arrest the process of their facture. The serial nature of Steir’s paintings sets her in alignment with the Minimalist practices of Donald Judd or Carl Andre, however, her works purport an overriding devotion to the most traditional of artistic pursuits: paint and its application to canvas. The messy splashes and organic weight of pigment caught travelling down her canvases situate these works as heir to a legacy of New York based process painters – for example the pouring and dripping of Pollock and the soaking and staining of Helen Frankenthaler. Using a loaded brush, paint is thrown at or poured down the canvas, while colours are kept separate if not, as in the early Waterfall paintings, entirely monochromatic. She begins by flinging layers of thinned white oil paint onto an already pigment soaked upright canvas that has been tacked to the studio wall. Steir then allows pigment to travel down the canvas’ surface of its own accord. With a careful release of control, Steir ensures that the viscosity of each paint layer, the duration of the pours, and their order of occurrence are decided by a strict plan prior to the unpredictable trajectory of her medium. Despite these methodological rules however, Steir’s work openly sets up illusionistic referents that extend beyond the canvas plane and into the world of phenomenological form.
The collective title of these works, Waterfalls, simultaneously defines their process as well as their relationship to the organic and the natural. Indeed, an evocation of the latter is further underlined by many of the titles given to individual paintings; the present work, Tyne Panorama 1, is testament to this. As explained by art historian Thomas McEvilley, “the dripping, cascading paint in effect is the waterfall that it represents. The sign and the thing are compacted, one and the same, somewhat as word and picture are combined in calligraphy. So the viewer of these paintings of Steir’s is sharing something of the experience of the Taoist sages who were portrayed in the act of gazing at waterfalls” (Thomas McEvilley, Pat Steir, Cambridge 1993, pp. 65-66). Steir compresses concept with representation and process; her paintings are thus both real and symbolic at the same time. In the present work, the monochromatic palette and ghostly semi-transparent skeins of paint present a seductive illusion of deep space as though viewing a freeze frame of liquid layers as they cascade and plummet in real time. The effect of the present work and its counterpart early monochromatic canvases is resoundingly poetic and lyrical, and has been summated as such by McEvilley: “The black goes way back and penetrates into a deep, velvety night before which the white dynamics of liquid motion dance to a cosmic tune. This simultaneously pictorial, philosophical, and cultural elegance permeates the 1990s pictures” (Ibid., p. 69). An utterly immersive and monumental work, Tyne Panorama 1 perfectly enshrines the exquisite painterly balance between order and chaos that characterises the very best of Steir's work.
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