Pat Steir, a major figure in American art since the 1970s, has created some of the most ambitious and challenging drawings of the late 20th century. This fall, the Neuberger Museum of Art
at Purchase College, presents Pat Steir: Drawing Out of Line, a survey that focuses on her exploration of the vocabulary of drawing. Included are five distinct bodies of her work: minimal and intimate word/image drawings (1971-74); richly delineated serial investigations of line (1975-76); heroically-scaled wave drawings (1983-86); a series of stunning waterfall drawings (1991); and a new, dramatic series featuring broad, dark, gestural marks that sometimes serve as a backdrop for delicate pastel grids (2007-08). This is the first retrospective in twenty-five years to look at the artists drawings.
Steir is an accomplished painter, printmaker, and poet, for whom drawing is at the heart of everything she does according to Jan Howard, Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs at The Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Providence, Rhode Island, who organized the exhibition with Susan Harris, an independent curator. The exhibition opened at RISD last winter. Steir has commented that she makes her work with the attitude of a gymnast: First the meditation, then the leap.
Pat Steir: Drawing Out of Line includes 35 drawings on paper, dramatically varied in scale, from intimate journal-like sheets to compositions up to 21 feet long. In addition to these works, a wall drawing first created by Steir in 1987, titled Self-Portrait: an Installation, will be recreated in the Richard & Dolly Maass Gallery at Purchase College in collaboration with Purchase College Art + Design faculty and students and in conjunction with the exhibition on view at the Neuberger Museum.
Steirs quiet, early worksword/image drawings inspired by the randomness of John Cages musical compositions both in design and subtletychallenged definitions of art, and particularly drawings. Abstract marks, images, and words are scattered across the sheet with equal weight. Having written poetry before learning to paint, Steir considers drawing and writing as one and the same. An example of this type of drawing, on view in the exhibition, is The Burial Mound at Stonehenge (1973), rendered in graphite, ink wash, and dye on paper.
In 1975, Steir narrowed her research to focus on art itself, first making drawings in her own version of Minimalisms geometric and serial formats, exploring the parameters of a mark with a drawn frame. Later, in the series of large wave drawings, Steir challenged the notion of drawing in both scale and ambition. She created drawings such as Untitled (1985), measuring more than fourteen feet wide, by stapling sheets of rolled paper on her studio wall and composing with the movement of her entire body. The circular forms corresponded to the reach of her arm, yet she was also inspired by the waves of Hokusai, Courbet, and Turner.
Drawings of waves gave way to waterfalls in 1987 as Steir discovered in them a vehicle for pursuing the nature of making a picture and of representing nature itself. Embracing change and spontaneity, her marks, created by gravity, were literally falling liquid, at the same time providing the illusion of the waterfall. Steir's later works moved farther towards abstraction. The artists most recent drawings, seen for the first time in this exhibition, contain a complex network of line strikingly reminiscent of her earliest drawings and etchings.