Pat Steir – Untitled (After Courbet and Hiroshige)

“Beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror everything […] Beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror Sea.” This poetic annotation lines Pat Steir’s Untitled (After Courbet and Hiroshige),a large work on paper completed in 1985. Best known for her dripping waterfall paintings, Steir’s work is characterized by spontaneity and unpredictability, embracing nature as an active force in art.

This piece calls up a torrent of expressive power. It communicates with art historical tradition, referencing 19thcentury artists Ando Hiroshige and Gustave Courbet, translating previous depictions of the irrepressible sea. The bold unrestrained lines and impressive scale of this piece overwhelm the viewer. Pat Steir uses this imagery and energy to evoke an emotional theme threaded through time and artistic expression: fear.

This drawing was featured in the Museum of Modern Art’s 1985 exhibition, New Works on paper, 3. Steir’s large wave drawings comprise a distinct body of work from the mid 1980’s, after which she began to experiment with the poured canvases that became waterfall paintings. This drawing represents an important moment in the artist’s career. Steir once said, “I never draw as exploration, I always draw as a finished work.” Untitled (After Courbet and Hiroshige) acknowledges inescapable natural forces and evokes the fearsome power of the sea.