Galleries: Painter Pat Steir, still building on chance and Duchamp

"For Philadelphia Three" by Pat Steir, using the artist's dripped paint method, is in her solo show at Locks Gallery.
"For Philadelphia Three" by Pat Steir, using the artist's dripped paint method, is in her solo show at Locks Gallery.
Posted: May 19, 2014

As a teenager in southern New Jersey, Pat Steir would skip school to travel to Philadelphia, specifically to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

"I did it so often - sitting on the floor, spreading my books out on the floor, looking at the artwork, eating apples - that after a while the guards didn't even chase me away," recalled Steir, now 74, in an oral history for the Smithsonian Archives of American Art.

One early influence was Marcel Duchamp, whose iconic The Large Glass, which joins two panels of accidentally shattered glass, made Steir aware that an art object could be more than simply "made" or "finished" by an artist. It could also be transformed by its own materials and life in the world outside the studio, as was The Large Glass in the late 1920s, when it was broken in transit following an exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum.

That realization, coupled with Steir's appreciation for Duchamp's use of chance procedures in his art, clearly informed her when she began her series of "waterfall" paintings in the late 1980s, pouring paint onto smooth, gessoed canvases and allowing it to flow into its own fluid downward rivulets. That a chance-based application of paint like hers could reference Chinese landscape painting and such abstract expressionists as Jackson Pollock (and perhaps even the waterfall of Duchamp's last major work, Etant donnés, also at the Philadelphia Museum of Art), added to her paintings' mystique.

Of late, Steir's art has taken a more meditative turn.

In the 11 canvases that make up her one-person show at Locks Gallery, each of which is composed of two vertical rectangles of different colors divided by a stripe that recalls a Barnett Newman "zip," Steir's paint pours are more evenly dispersed and contained than before. The transparency of her layers of dripped paint also conjures infinite depths in many of these new works, all from 2013 and 2014. That is especially true in Blue and Blue, which pairs two Newmanesque blues separated by a red stripe, and of several paintings in which veils of yellow, green, and gold coalesce and separate, revealing excavations of colors.

It's tempting to try to identify the inspiration behind three paintings whose titles refer to Philadelphia ( For Philadelphia One, For Philadelphia Two, and For Philadelphia Three) and to search for aspects of this city - and, of course, Steir's favorite haunt, the Art Museum - in them. I see the Naples yellow of the Waterworks buildings below the museum, the milky white bark of London plane trees on nearby Kelly Drive, and the dark Hooker's green of the Schuylkill wrapped together in these shimmering, resplendent paintings.

Locks Gallery, 600 Washington Square South, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. 215-629-1000 or Through May 31.

Three are a match

"Department of Neighborhood Services," Fleisher/Ollman Gallery's group show uniting the talents of Barry McGee, Dan Murphy, and Isaac Tin Wei Lin, is about as close to perfection as a show of three artists can get. While all three have backgrounds in graffiti-making - signage, patterns, hot color, urban life, and graffiti's energy pulse through their works in equal measure - they're distinctly different. But they're pathologically prolific. At times, they're even symbiotic (more on that later).

McGee, who lives in San Francisco and has an international reputation (born in 1966, he's also the eldest of the three), is the show's linchpin. The first work you see as you walk through the gallery's entrance is his eye-poppingly gorgeous, enormous painting Untitled (2014), a quiltlike composition of rectangles painted with invented geometric patterns and the occasional image and word. McGee has also contributed a number of other paintings and sculptures to the show, among them a carved wooden head of a man wearing glasses and found objects enveloped in papier-maché. They seem incidental to his painted works.

Tin Wei-Lin and Murphy, both Philadelphia-based, are doing their strongest work to date. Two collaborative works, Ephemera Box 2, a conglomeration of shared personal objects in a Plexiglas box, and Ephemera, a scattering of found materials on - and falling off - a sculpture pedestal, express aspects of both artists' sensibilities.

In his own paintings and drawings, and especially those of the new "Sunrise Sunset Series," Tin Wei-Lin has become a more inventive, associative colorist (pop art and the Washington Color School painter Gene Davis come to mind). Murphy shines too, especially in his arrangements of photocopied vinyl stickers on Plexiglas and a work reminiscent of a Warhol silkscreen, Tokyo, Koreatown (2014), a digital photo under a vibrant red-tinted piece of Plexiglas.

Fleisher/Ollman Gallery, 1216 Arch St., 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 12 to 5 p.m. Saturdays. 215-545-6140 or Through June 7.

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