Pat Steir: Effusively minimalist

Pat Steir applying a soap ground, San Francisco 1993. Image courtesy Crown Point Press.

In the Boston Globe, Sebastian Smee reports that increasingly he finds himself recoiling from the obsession with drawing that art institutions have “whipped into a kind of cult, as if putting pencil or charcoal to paper were somehow imbued with spiritual radiance, connected with deeper, more authentic modes of being.” But, after a few visits to Pat Steir’s drawing show at the RISD Museum, he begins to soften to the medium. “Pat Steir�s early works reflect the obsessions of the day with unimpeachable fidelity, like a light- sensitized plate,” Smee writes. “Her drawings resemble worksheets, filled with grids, diagrams, color charts, crosses, dashes, and crosshatching. They�re self-consciously about process, in other words: the very building blocks of art. But they have none of the dry rigor (blooming into bliss) of Sol LeWitt or Agnes Martin, two artists she clearly revered and whose work reflects similar interests. Instead they mingle minimalist restraint with the emotive effusions and scientific obsessions of more singular artists, from Leonardo da Vinci to Cy Twombly….

“The influence of artists such as LeWitt and Martin is quickly overtaken by Courbet, Hokusai, and the whole Asian tradition of ink painting. Steir dives in, embracing chance and spontaneity, as well as the idea that in painting a waterfall, the drips of ink and oil paint and the spatter of gold powder she uses might all actually be the thing represented, not just imitations of it.

“It�s an ancient ambition. (One thinks of Zeuxis painting grapes so lifelike that birds flew down to peck them.) It may be folly, but there�s no denying the fundamental axiom that every image is a thing before it is anything else. So why not a wet and dripping, spray-soaked thing?”

Pat Steir: Drawing Out of Line,” RISD Museum, Providence, RI. Through July 3, 2010.

Today at 2:30, poet Anne Waldman will read work related to Pat Steir and other visual artists. Professor, performer, cultural activist, and author of more than 40 books, Waldman founded, with Allen Ginsberg, the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado.


  1. What a wonderful write-up!
    I run the RISD Museum's facebook page, and wondered if we could feature your article? We would love to help promote your blog while getting people enthusiastic about our exhibits!

  2. Excellent article and I love Steir's works of art.

    Art by Karena

  3. Michael–That would be excellent. Send images of the installation and I'll post them.

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