Pat Steir started her waterfall series over 30 years ago and continues with it today. This work also seems very topical with current worldwide water shortages and drought situations. I always encourage students to work on a series because when you immerse yourself in one thing, whether it be one subject or one idea, that is when you truly find your own voice. VISA instructor, John Luna describes this as a “necessity to wallow”. It is necessary to wallow in a subject matter in order to find a unique way of expression. When you make work that is a one-off (not part of series), you are only touching the surface of content, and the work will most likely reflect a lack of commitment and involvement on your part.
An article in Art News addresses some specifics of Steir’s process. She says the paint and gravity make the picture for her. She stresses that her role is a secondary one. The paint does create the waterfalls, but this is only possible because of Steir’s intense involvement with her subject and her advance preparation and ability to handle her materials and surfaces. Through her seemingly endless repetition of the same subject matter for several decades, Steir has developed an intense understanding of what her materials can do. Her waterfalls are created by letting the paint fall as if it was the water in the waterfall. While these works might have a similarity to them, endless variations are developed through choice of colours, layering, density of paint and gravity. Steir’s waterfall series consist of dozens and dozens of similar, but very individual works that all speak with a slightly different voice.
A walk through of a 2007 Steir exhibition can be seen here: James Kalm at Cheim & Read. In a 2008 interview in Bomb magazine, Steir discusses the origin of the waterfall series which started around 1985. Her most recent work, which still engages with the waterfall theme, can be seen on the Cheim Read website. In addition to painting, Steir also uses the printmaking process to further investigate the relationship between material, process and content in continuing with her waterfall theme: Crown Point Press.
“The idea of working in series or in distinct purposeful directions is actually the opposite of condemning oneself to a life of sameness or repetition. The process is not about repetition at all, but rather about being able to explore, investigate, examine or address particular ideas, themes, compositions, concepts or topics in progressively deeper and more meaningful ways, and from an increasingly greater variety of perspectives than just one or two. It’s like looking at something under a microscope as opposed to giving it a casual passing glance. The closer you look, the more you see, and the more you see, the more fascinating it gets.”
So the next time you think you need to come up with a new idea. Stop. Rework your last idea. Then do it again. And again. Eventually you will come up with something that will amaze you. And if you want instruction on the process of working on a series, enroll in Barrie Szekely’s upcoming Painting: Nature as Series workshop that starts this coming Monday, August 17.