In ancient Greek, the word kairos defined the moment of opportunity to make a decision. Kairos, which lends its name to New York-based painter Pat Steir’s current exhibition at Lévy Gorvy, encapsulates a Proustian interpretation of time that is subjective and cerebral, as opposed to a sequential grasp. Although they represent binary notions at first sight, chance and precision are two pivotal elements in Steir’s work, and given her decision to name her exhibition after a term associated with philosophy of time, she tends to perfect the balance between these two opposites. Created over the last two years, paintings at Steir’s first exhibition with the gallery after the Upper East Side powerhouse announced representation of her last year.
Occupying the spacious gallery’s two main floors, Steir’s large and medium-scale paintings stem from her performative and tactile relationship to painting. Pouring oil paint from the top of canvas on a ladder, Steir achieves poetic results that celebrate the hypnotizing impact of colors and loose forms as the paint moves itself across the work’s surface. The seventy-seven-year old painter tames the movement of oozing paint on canvas, allowing the fluidity of paint and gravity do the job for her, while remaining essentially autonomous in her movement. Reminiscent of Agnes Martin’s romantic geometry and Barnett Newman’s playful zips, the paintings utilize paint similar to poetry does for words. Submitting to the ungovernability of chance, Steir maintains a vigilant strategy underneath loose abstraction of her immersive paintings, merging technique with unpredictability.
The paintings’ poetic language extends to lyrical and abstract titles such as Morning with Red Line in the Middle, Melancholy, Morning Moon, and Sweet Grey in which Steir focuses on single colors blanketing the canvas which she splits into two with vertical lines. Variations in density and tonal properties imbue colors with tactility and depth. Akin to waves on ocean surface or wrinkles on an aging face, hues on canvas narrate uncharted tales in abstraction.
Challenging the non-figurative stand of the work is Steir’s investment in ideological expression. While egocentricity and indulgence trump introspectiveness in parallel to society’s ever-growing inclination toward consumerism and materiality, the artist pursues humility and reflection. Her five-decade old practice resists to steer away from declarative impact of abstraction for the sake of market desires or trends. Through a timeless and enduring commitment, Steir challenges unstable and incalculable dynamics of art making.
Pat Steir: Kairos is on view at Lévy Gorvy through October 21, 2017.
Lévy Gorvy [Exhibition Page]