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Oil on canvas painting by Pat Steir

Pat Steir

Untitled XXIX, 2019 (Taipei), 2019
Oil on canvas
48 x 48 inches (121.9 x 121.9 cm)

©️ 2020 Pat Steir. Photo: Tom Powel Imaging; Courtesy the artist and Vito Schnabel Gallery

For the past year and a half, a beautifully illustrated German book has been sitting like a totem on Pat Steir’s worktable. Werner Spillmann’s Farb-Systeme 1611-2007 (2009) details a wide range of color theories and color wheels invented over the centuries, from Isaac Newton’s scientific studies on light, to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s studies of color and mysticism, to Paul Klee’s and Le Corbusier’s experiments. (Only one woman’s efforts are included.) But Steir is not fluent in German. The inspiration she has taken from that silent oracle has been entirely visual: no theories, just colors, images, optical stimulations. Acting intuitively, not scientifically - with what Duchamp called “the precision of the random” - she has trusted her eyes and expertise in creating her own interpretation of optical relations, Color Wheel, 2018-19, a suite of thirty near-monochromes, each measuring nine by seven feet. Her hues span the primary colors red, yellow, and blue and their opposites, green, purple, and orange, in their permutations and gradations. To each canvas, she has applied layers of wide horizontal brushstrokes in the precisely complementary color. The cycle begins with one black-on-white canvas and ends with a white-on-black version. Steir devised this particular form and process specifically in response to the Hishhorn Museum’s spectacular rotunda, where the window shades have been drawn and where this painted spectrum is now installed in the round against black-painted walls that make each piece pop out draatically. As viewers surrender to the seduction of this feast of colors, all distractions posed by the architecture fall away, and the magnetic power of the circle comes out - a voluptuous, engulfing, nearly mystical vibration that bubbles up through the artist’s systematic endeavor. 

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