(Video link here.) A few days ago, we stopped by Lévy Gorvy Gallery on Manhattan’s Upper East Side to see Kairos, an exhibition of artist Pat Steir’s most recent Waterfall paintings, for which she’s best known. We were blown away. Expressive lines of paint drip down a canvas of built-up color, gravity determining the outcome of Steir’s choices in paint, color, liquidity. This 2-minute film is a lovely entrée into Steir’s beautiful work and very unique process, which is all about giving up control.
The spiritual in my art is giving up control. 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.
…Because I don’t plan how the paintings will look, how they look is a surprise.
Steir has often said that the origins of her Waterfall paintings lie in her misunderstanding of an ancient Chinese technique called Haboku that a friend had told her about. From Art Daily:
Initially, she thought the ink was splashed. Through subsequent research she learned that what appeared to be a splash was in fact meticulously drawn by the academically trained artist. “Sometimes the best ideas come from misunderstandings,” Steir reflects, referencing her mode of working as “collaboration with gravity and flow.”
The dynamic of chance and “not-knowing” that her paintings employ were greatly influenced by her friendship with John Cage.
Each step tells me the next one to take, but I don’t try to control it or to make it happen…
…I’m not expressing something, I’m looking for something. What I’m looking for doesn’t have a word or a name so…I can look for it forever…and then you can look for it.
In this video of Steir in conversation with Sylvere Lontringer, she describes her process and the influence of her friends John Cage and Agnes Martin on her work.