Monday, March 12, 2007

Deconstructing Visual Styles

What Pat Steir's paintings from the 1980s clearly demonstrate is a deconstruction of visual styles. By dividing a canvas into a grid pattern, and painting each section in a different style, she shows how colour, paint application, mark making and the other abstract principles of design come together to create a new visual style. Educated as a graphic artist, Steir moved into her own post-modern, deconstructivist, painterly style.

Like all well trained graphic designers of today, she was able to recognize the elements that make up a visual style, and was able to replicate them, often to profound results.

Pat Steir’s complex paintings, prints, and drawings, encompass a lexicon of marks and signs. Born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1940, Steir developed an interest in art at a young age. She began her formal art training in 1956, studying graphic arts at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, where she eventually received her B.F.A. in 1962. There, she was influenced by her teachers Richard Lindner and Phillip Guston, who encouraged her to find her own style rather than following popular ideas and techniques. It was Steir’s training in graphic arts and illustration that allowed her to develop her eclectic visual vocabulary.

Steir rejected traditional forms of composition in favor of seemingly unrelated shapes and forms. She composed her works in combinations of random brushstrokes, grid lines, color charts, signs, color fields and pictorial elements to create canvases that display a self-conscious symbolism. Drips of paint in the works can refer to the actual process of painting. Within her works there is no fixed meaning, as the artist allows her viewers to draw their own inferences based on their personal history and associations. In process, Steir starts with a mark that is developed into a unit of signs and symbols.

During the 1960s, Steir pursued her art while also working as a freelance book cover designer and as an art director at the New York publishing house, Harper & Row. In 1964, she had her first solo exhibition at the Terry Dintenfass Gallery, New York, and continued to show sporadically throughout the decade. Her work of the late 1960s was more figural, using male nudes juxtaposed with animal heads. Produced during a time when minimalism and conceptual art was the norm, these dramatic works demonstrate Steir’s single-minded pursuit of her own style.

In the early 1970s Steir introduced the use of an X-mark into her visual vocabulary, and it is frequently seen in her images. Her marks are notations in paint. Their relationship to other marks and colors in her compositions often form discrete compositional elements, some referring to each other through similarity of stroke, size, or color, others contrasting with each other and emphasizing differences. Whether abstract or figural, the elements reveal her interest in expressive and painterly touch. Steir’s work promotes an awareness of her paintings as “made works,” the product of the artist’s hand and eye. This is apparent in the Phillips’s Long Chart, Large Chart, which consists of four oblong horizontal panels, distinct from each other and stacked at exact intervals on the wall, playing off solid and “void,” painting and support. The separation among the panels asserts their individuality, but the palette and use of common colors, although different in design, proportion, or scale, suggests their relationships.

Over the years Steir has been involved with feminist magazines such as Heresies and Semio-Text. Steir’s work continues to win her recognition and wide-acclaim.

Reference: american art

Published: December 14, 1984
Click here
to view article from New York Times

''THE BRUEGHEL SERIES (A Vanitas of Style)'' is the culmination of Pat Steir's career to this point. Steir has been painting flowers since 1981, she has used panels almost from the beginning and she has consistently painted paintings about painting. This two-part, 80-panel, floor-to ceiling work, at the Brooklyn Museum through Feb. 18, also seems to be a realization of a lifelong ambition, expressed last year to the art critic Frederick Ted Castle, to produce a notebook from which others could learn.

Steir's inspiration was a 17th-century still life by Jan Brueghel the Elder, in Vienna, in which a vase and flowers against a dark background are framed on top by two perched butterflies and on the bottom by a variety of busy insects, including a testy ladybug and a scavenging grasshopper. In a brochure accompanying the exhibition, Steir wrote that for her the Brueghel ''is almost like a visual crossword puzzle with hundreds of connections between artists, styles and times.'' ''Vanitas'' is a term identified with 17th-century Dutch genre painting, in particular with flowers and the transience not only of their beauty but of life.

Van Gogh/Goya

White Chrysanthemum (Painting for Ann)


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