Pat Steir was born in 1938 in New Jersey. She attended the Pratt Institute in New York, where she received her BFA, and Boston University College of Fine Arts. Both institutions have honored her: Boston University with a Distinguished Alumni Award and Pratt Institute with an honorary doctorate.
Steir is well known for her painting, installation work, and printmaking. Drawings of waves gave way to waterfalls in 1987 as Steir discovered in them a vehicle for pursuing the nature of making a picture and of representing nature itself. Her marks, created by gravity, are literally falling liquid, at the same time providing the illusion of the waterfall. In her waterfall paintings, Steir allowed diluted oil paint to run down the canvas, counting on the effects of chance while relying on skill to direct the outcome. These paintings evoke the natural phenomena that give the series its name, at the same time that they are, in a certain sense, literally waterfalls or records of waterfalls.
She has worked as a freelance bookcover designer, as art director at Harper & Row, New York, on the board of the feminist magazines Printed Matter and Heresies, all while simultaneously pursuing her own painting. Her earlier works were characterized by literal renditions of birds, animals, figures in symbolic situations, and x-ed out images, but later moved toward abstraction. Stier feels abstraction and reality were one in the same, their difference coming from how one views them.
Steir has exhibited at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, D.C., the Spencer Museum of Art, KS, the New Museum of Contemporary Art, NY, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim Museum, the Whitney Museum, and the Museum of Modern Art, in NY. She has also had exhibitions in Europe, including the Tate Gallery in London and the Cabinet des Estampes in Geneva.