Pat Steir - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Saturday, November 23, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    "I wanted to be a great artist, again not in slang in someone who is great. But in the fantastic, reaching the soul of other people."

    Pat Steir is an American painter and conceptual artist best known for her Waterfall paintings, a series she began working on in the 1980s which engages with ideas of chance and East Asian philosophy.

    In a career stretching over five decades, Steir has undergone multiple transformations as an artist. Graduating from the Pratt Institute in New York, she rose to fame in the 1970s with her “intimate” conceptual monochromatic canvases of crossed-out roses and other subjects, which sought to destroy images as symbols. She subsequently underwent a formative period of artistic self-reflection, immersing herself in a study of the styles and iconography of other artists, which culminated in The Brueghel Series (A Vanitas of Style) (1982–4), a pivotal work comprising 64 painted panels each reinterpreting a section of a still-life vase of flowers by Jan Breughel the Elder in the style of a different artist or school, ranging from Byzantine to Japonisme.

    In the 1980s, struck by the radical ideas of the artist, composer and close friend John Cage on integrating “chance-controlled” elements into his watercolours, prints, drawings, and musical scores (most notoriously 4’33”) Steir’s working methods pivoted dramatically. Liberating herself from the confines of imagery, she began to produce dripped, splashed and poured paintings, allowing nature and elemental forces to take charge. Steir particularly drew inspiration from the Chinese Tang dynasty yipin (逸品) painters, who rebelled against orthodox painting methods in favour of explosive bursts of energy and spontaneity, splattering or using their hands to smear ink. Setting basic parameters about palette (from around 1989–92 this was increasingly limited to monochrome) and canvas shape, Steir would begin to throw, pour and stream oil pigments of various viscosities down the upright, primed linen canvas. With different speeds, drying rates and effects for each of the multiple, diaphanous layers, the final appearance of each work was subject to infinite variations: “My idea was not to touch the canvas, not to paint, but to pour the paint and let the paint itself make the picture.” (Steir, quoted in Phyllis Tuchman, ‘Gravity’s Rainbow: Hot on the Heels of Key Showcases, Painter Pat Steir Preps Major Washington, D.C. Exhibition’, ARTnews, 30 July 2019, online).

    Summer Waterfall, executed over more than a decade, is a sublime work capturing the sensation of warm falling water. Steir explained why she has dedicated over 30 years of her life to the Waterfall series: “It’s chance within limitations […] Being more attached to the process than the conclusion, it’s an incredible freedom.” (quoted in Hilarie Sheets, ‘Pat Steir Gets Discovered, Again’, The New York Times, 18 January 2019, online). Resisting simplistic categorisation of her work as ‘abstract’, and taking her cue from the Chinese literati painters, who pursued personal erudition and expression rather than literal representation or superficially attractive beauty in their works, Steir considers her works ‘non-objective’, and herself to be fundamentally a maker of conceptual art:

    I became an artist against all odds and nobody was going to tell me what imagery is good for me” (Pat Steir, quoted in Hilarie Sheets, ‘Pat Steir Gets Discovered, Again’, The New York Times, 18 January 2019, online).

    In 2018 Steir joined a small group of elite female artists commanding seven figures at auction when Elective Affinity Waterfall (1992) sold for more than US$2.2 million at Phillips New York. Steir’s work is included in major public collections around the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (all New York City), National Gallery of Art (Washington, D. C.), Tate Gallery (London), Walker Art Center (Minneapolis), and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.


Summer Waterfall

signed with the artist's initials and dated 'P.S. 2007-2018' on the overlap
oil on canvas
304.8 x 259.1 cm. (120 x 102 in.)
Painted in 2007-2018.

HK$3,000,000 - 5,000,000 

Sold for HK$3,250,000

Contact Specialist
Charlotte Raybaud
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 24 November 2019