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.