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  • Provenance

    Galerie Montenay, Paris
    Private Collection, Europe
    Private Collection, Paris

  • Exhibited

    Paris, Galerie Montenay, Pat Steir, 7 - 30 June 1990

  • Catalogue Essay

    ‘I’m making art because I want you to look at that painting and I want it to affect you in some way, to change what you see, to change how you see it. To change how you see something, whatever. I want art to affect the viewer and for the viewer to take it away to enhance, embrace, and elevate life. That’s the spiritual aspect. Painting is a spiritual practice’ (Pat Steir, quoted in William J Simmons, ‘Artists at Work: Pat Steir’, Interview Magazine, 8 August 2016, online).

    With streams of paint cascading down the expansive canvas - stretching nearly two meters high and over three metres in length - Pat Steir’s Calming Waterfall immerses the viewer in a torrent of cleansing pastel blues and lush greens, illuminated with flecks of bright white and yellow highlights. Painted in 1989, a seminal point in Steir’s oeuvre as she began to adopt the dripped and poured technique of her iconic waterfall paintings, the present work is an early and foundational example from a body of work that went on to shape the acclaimed artist’s career.

    Elevating the spirituality of the painting, with underlying currents of energy transmitted through the splashed and poured paint, Steir gestures towards the influence of Asian art on her work. Particularly inspired by Chinese landscape painting, Steir collides abstract painting and the weight of paint with ancient Asian artistic traditions. In Chinese art, waterfalls symbolise eternal change - infinite beginnings and endings in constant flux - which courses through Steir’s process of painterly meditation. Calming Waterfall, an exquisitely rendered and abstracted depiction of water, evokes the same limitless flow of time and change.

    In reference to the Chinese and Japanese ‘flung-ink style’, Steir drags a brush loaded with paint across the top edge of the canvas, allowing the colour to pour down the hung surface, as well as effortlessly sweeping the paint in graceful arcs, casting little droplets and rivulets of colour across the surface. Whilst she uses turpentine to vary the dilution and saturation of the pigment, Steir applies paint directly to the canvas. Avoiding pre-mixed colours, the artist’s technique encourages the unpredictable and intriguing emergence of new tones. Exploiting the physical properties of paint as a medium, in her waterfall paintings Steir harnesses the potential of gravity to generate continuous flows and waves of colour: My paintings are based on what I can do, and what I can do is not controlled. So I give up control, and that’s the spiritual aspect of the work—taking what comes and relinquishing control. Although they look very controlled, they’re really not, because it’s all poured paint. The control is in the weight of the paint, the temperature of the air, the movement of the air. … The spiritual aspect is hidden, but I really believe in that’ (Pat Steir, quoted in William J Simmons, ‘Artists at Work: Pat Steir’, Interview Magazine, 8 August 2016, online).

    The extensive surface of Calming Waterfall, awash with splattered though fluid crescents of paint that envelop the viewer, inspires and evokes the same feeling of sublime reverence felt when facing a waterfall in nature. Steir’s virtuosic and performative facture resounds from the composition and reveals the incredible complexity and weight of paint in its purest form.


Calming Waterfall

oil on canvas
193 x 321 cm (75 7/8 x 126 3/8 in.)
Painted in 1989.

£250,000 - 350,000 

Sold for £381,000

Contact Specialist
Henry Highley
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4061 [email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 27 June 2018