PAT STEIR (B. 1940)
PAT STEIR (B. 1940)
PAT STEIR (B. 1940)
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PAT STEIR (B. 1940)

Wind, Water and Stone: 6AM

PAT STEIR (B. 1940)
Wind, Water and Stone: 6AM
oil on canvas
108 x 108in. (274.3 x 274.3cm.)
Painted in 1997
The Artist.
Lévy Gorvy, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2018.
T. Breidenbach, 'Pat Steir, Robert Miller Gallery', in Artforum, February 1998, pp. 89-90.
M. Rudman, ‘Pat Steir’, in studio international, 30 November 2016 (illustrated in colour).
S. Ozer, ‘London – Pat Steir at Dominique Lévy through January 28th, 2017’, in Art Observed, 1 Janaury 2017 (illustrated in colour).
New York, Robert Miller Gallery, Pat Steir: Wind Water Stone, 1997 (illustrated in colour, unpaged).
London, Lévy Gorvy, Pat Steir, 2016-2017, pp. 138, 171 and 178 (installation view illustrated in colour, p. 137; illustrated in colour, p. 139; detail illustrated in colour, pp. 140-141).

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Claudia Schürch
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Lot Essay

With its shimmering drips and veils of silver, pink, apricot and white, Wind, Water and Stone: 6AM (1997) is a sumptuous, atmospheric example of Pat Steir’s poetic abstract practice. Spanning almost three metres across, it creates an immersive, meditative spectacle. The internal sense of scale is heightened by a green wisp of cross-hatched strokes that floats at the centre; condensed points of orange punctuate the lower reaches, like tiny figures in a mountain vista. A dialogue with nature and chance is central to Steir’s practice, which is informed by Minimalism, Zen Buddhist thought and ancient Chinese landscape painting. As with her famed ‘Waterfall’ paintings, begun in the late 1980s, Steir made the present work by pouring, splashing and flinging thinned paint at the canvas. It departs from their vertical format, however, in its dynamic composition, with arcs of white rising around the central space like whipped-up spray. The work is one of six that Steir debuted in her exhibition Wind, Water and Stone at Robert Miller Gallery, New York, in 1997. Each equally-sized canvas was subtitled with an hour of the morning, progressively brightening from midnight onwards. 6AM nears the climax of the sequence, aglow with the blush of dawn.

Born in New Jersey in 1940, Steir was determined to be an artist from the age of five. After studying at Boston University and the Pratt Institute, she rose to prominence in 1970s New York with postmodern works that paired images and text, probing the history of representation. Formative friendships with Sol Lewitt, Agnes Martin and the Minimalist composer John Cage—whose interests in Zen and the philosophy of chance were particularly influential—led to a gradual shift in her practice. She travelled to China and Japan in the 1980s, collaborating with local printmakers, and arrived at the ‘Waterfall’ works towards the end of the decade. ‘I discovered japonisme, and then I discovered Chinese literati paintings, and then I started to pour paint’, she says. ‘When I started to pour paint, there was no return’ (P. Steir, quoted in ‘Artist to Artist: Pat Steir and Sarah Sze’, Gagosian Quarterly, Summer 2022). Steir has continued to develop these ideas ever since, and recent years have seen renewed critical attention towards her work. 2019 saw her mount a solo show at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., and a vast site-specific installation at the Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia—the first such project there since Henri Matisse was commissioned to make his mural The Dance in 1930.

Steir diverges in process and outlook from the Abstract Expressionist painters to whom she has sometimes been compared. Unlike Helen Frankenthaler’s stained canvases, Steir’s are carefully primed, causing the pigment to slip down rather than sink into the surface. Unlike Jackson Pollock’s drip-paintings, her works are neither abstract, in the sense of being an abstraction of something, nor are they expressive of the artist’s internal state. Steir takes herself out of the picture, which, she says, reveals itself of its own accord. ‘I want the paint to tell me something’, she says. ‘… I want the paint to tell me something about the nature of art, about the secret of art, the secret of nature, about the universe that we exist in’ (P. Steir, quoted in L. Wei, ‘Pat Steir – interview’, Studio International, 15 August 2020).

The present work’s final form is governed by Steir’s gestural expertise—she has described being able to see how thrown paint will land while it still hangs in the air—but also by myriad unpredictable factors. The varying weights and translucencies of different pigments, the action of gravity and the atmosphere in which the paint dries all play a role in the unforeseen fissures, filigrees, mists and underglows generated by the paint’s interacting layers. ‘While the manifestations of wind and rain are the most obvious inspirations for these paintings,’ Tom Breidenbach observed of the 1997 show, ‘“stone” suggests alchemy, the processes by which one seeks to transmute natural substance’ (T. Breidenbach, ‘Pat Steir, Robert Miller Gallery’, Artforum, February 1998, p. 90). It is in this alchemy that the vast, mysterious beauty of Steir’s work resides.

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