Ravishing beauty

By GREG COOK  |  March 17, 2010

These drippy blocks suggest one of the ways Steir built her waterfall paintings, which are represented here by the breathtaking 1992 oil painting Outer Lhamo Waterfall. A wide stroke of red-orange paint at the top of the blood red canvas angles horizontally toward the center, then cascades nine feet down the middle of the painting in fine drips, and at the bottom crosses horizontal splashes that take on the look of a grotto of smaller falls. Part of the pleasure of the work is recognizing how the force of gravity on this spare collection of brushstrokes and splatters replicates the forces acting on waterfalls and mimics their look. At the same time, it's a rapturous painting with colors that hum like a Rothko.

There are flashes of this feeling in the waterfall drawings here, but they're inconsistent, and lack the material richness and chromatic wattage of her paintings. The show concludes with five 2008 ink, oil, pencil, and acrylic drawings of wide black dramatic brushstrokes or pours — some seemingly glossy wet — that fill almost the entire width of the pages. Steir sketches grids under and atop the brushstrokes, but they strike a sour note against the free-flowing ink and feel like scaffolding that she no longer needs. And coming after the dashing, expressive gestures of the waterfalls, they feel like a retreat.

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