Pat Steir, Winter Group 4: Green, Red, Gold & Blue, 2009-2011, 131 3/4 x 132 inches, oil on canvas
Just opened at Cheim & Read (through March 26) is Pat Steir's first show of new work since 2007. It is a magnificent exhibition of huge paintings that synthesize and consolidate the artist's history and process to a crystalline clarity, a personal triumph and a powerful affirmation of the potency of abstract painting.
One's initial reaction to these works is inevitably a sense of awe -- at the sheer beauty and sensuality of the images, at the massive scale and the technical impossibility of Steir's control over her process. At roughly ten feet square, each painting presents a vast arena in which the fluidity of the medium and the force of gravity collaborate with the artist's deft manipulations and brilliant color sense to create new natural phenomena -- chunks of heightened reality. Each canvas is divided in half, consisting of two contrasting colors -- with each color arrived at through numerous translucent layers. The paint is poured from the top of the plane, meandering downward in nuanced scrims of luminous color. We've seen this process in Steir's work since the "Waterfall" paintings of the 80s and 90s, but the new incarnation does not rely on descriptive gesture at all, instead it "simply" sets the process in motion and patiently follows it through -- accepting each occurrence and building upon it. The level of focus is that of a deeply seasoned sage who calmly and confidently goes about her work -- creating miraculous objects.
Pat Steir, Winter Group 6: Light Green, Paynes Grey & Red, 2009-2011, 131 7/8 x 132 inches, oil on canvas
Pat Steir, Winter Group 3: Red, Green, Blue & Gold, 2009-2011, 131 5/8 x 132 3/8 inches, oil on canvas