Self-portrait
Capturing the Moment: Hugh Steers

By Christopher Harrity

Originally published on Advocate.com January 07 2014 6:00 AM ET

Hugh Steers (1963–1995) was celebrated for his allegorical painting that captured the emotional and political tenor of New York in the late 1980s and early 1990s, particularly the impact of queer identity and the AIDS crisis. Born in Washington, D.C., Steers studied painting at Yale University and pursued figuration throughout his career, which was cut dramatically short by AIDS at age 32. Influenced by historical figures of American art, including Thomas Eakins, Edward Hopper, and Paul Cadmus, he embraced representational painting and figuration at a time when such approaches were especially unfashionable.

Steers described his artistic perspective in an interview in September 1992: “I think I'm in the tradition of a certain kind of American artist — artists whose work embodies a certain gorgeous bleakness. Edward Hopper, Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline — they all had this austere beauty to them. They found beauty in the most brutal forms. I think that's what characterizes America, the atmosphere, its culture, its cities and landscape. They all have that soft glow of brutality.”

While embracing the polemics of identity politics through his visual content, Steers’s emotionally charged painting took a departure from the more didactic work of his peers. The last five years of his artistic practice focused on AIDS as a subject, drawing on community experience and mixing dreamlike allegory with figurative realism. The resulting images amplify issues of mortality and isolation, defiance and compassion. Steers’s artwork is in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Walker Art Center, and the Denver Art Museum. A forthcoming catalogue raisonné of Steers’s paintings and drawings will be organized by Visual AIDS.

Images courtesy of Visual AIDS: Visual AIDS utilizes art to fight AIDS by provoking dialogue, supporting HIV+ artists, and preserving a legacy, because AIDS is not over.

Click throught the following pages for more of Steers's work >>>

 

Breathing, 1987
oil on paper, 11x15
Courtesy of the Estate of Hugh Steers

Yellow Rug, 1992
oil on canvas, 50x45
Courtesy of the Estate of Hugh Steers

Bath Buddy
Oil on gessoed paper, 11x15
Courtesy of the Estate of Hugh Steers

Signature, 1991
oil on canvas, 66x56
Courtesy of the Estate of Hugh Steers

Bath Curtain, 1992
oil on canvas, 64x71.75
Courtesy of the Estate of Hugh Steers

Sick Room, 1990
oil on canvas, 38.12x40
Courtesy of the Estate of Hugh Steers

IV Embrace, 1992
oil on gessoed paper, 10.87x11.25
Courtesy of the Estate of Hugh Steers

Long Blade Skirt, 1992
oil on gessoed paper, 13.62x10..68
Courtesy of the Estate of Hugh Steers

Baseball Bat, 1992
oil on canvas, 72x50
Courtesy of the Estate of Hugh Steers

Fruit Bowl, 1990
oil on canvas, 40x36
Courtesy of the Estate of Hugh Steers