New York

Pat Steir

Fourcade, Droll, Inc.

In a way, Pat Steir’s paintings focus attention on the readiness with which one classifies pictorial meaning. As I’ve indicated before (Artforum, December, 1974), her works provoke questions, reflections on one’s assumptions of intended significance. Looking at Song. A penciled grid dividing the canvas into 16ths, stanzas of the whole. One’s eye jumping from square to square, top to bottom, side to side. In the center three lines of color—red, yellow, blue. Drawn around this a circle, partly painted out. At the edges, in the corners: A a red rose shape thinly painted over in white, a thicker horizontal white stroke negating its center—similarly at B a whited out blue rose and at C, one of orange yellow. The implicit Don the lower right is all black (a total negation?). In between, reading vertically, squares of outlined roses, scribbled over and Xed out—A red, C yellow, and on the other side B blue; D is left empty. Horizontally, above and below, squares with the letters 4 then B each topped with a penciled scrawl, or C then D underlined with a straight stroke. If this description sounds disjunctive, well, one doesn’t see the painting in linear sequence, proceeding logically from one square to the next. Everything is there at once. And although one’s eye may fixate first on one area then on another, it is not so much that the parts are related as that one constructs, selects a relationship. That given a whole (the painting as object), one assumes, arranges an order, a reason for its presentation. I’ll try to explain.

The rose appears as an emblem throughout Steir’s recent paintings, its significance seemingly highlighted by its repetition or its central placement. And there are any number of symbolic referents one might use to interpret the “meaning” of this rose. But to paraphrase: an image of a rose is an image of a rose is . . . And Steir’s roses are either crossed out, painted over or faintly, sketchily defined. As if to cancel any definitive, intended content. The rose is not “meant” as anything, any more than a squiggled line or patch of paint “means” something other than what it is. The paintings are like scattered notes, marks on a surface, attempts at articulation not answers or solutions. The marks do not intrinsically lead anywhere, building on each other to establish a final image as the conclusion. What intrigues me about Steir’s paintings is how impossible it becomes to say the work is simply this or that. Which is not to say they are meaningless.

Susan Heinemann