Label Text: Pat Steir has been a force in contemporary American art since the 1970s. This triptych, like many of her works, directly references the work of other well-known artists. In Red and Green Tree, Steir cites Vincent van Gogh’s oil painting, Flowering Plum Tree (after Hiroshige) (1887), which in turn was inspired by the print, Plum Garden in Kameido (1856-1858), by Japanese artist Ando Hiroshige. Red and Green Tree is one in a series of 23 works—all produced in the early- to mid-1980s in this three-panel format and based on van Gogh’s and Hiroshige’s plum blossoms.
When read from left to right, the triptych panels travel further into abstraction. In the first two panels the viewer’s eyes move easily along the dark boughs of the plum tree and are met with a large blossom in the second panel. The transition to the third panel is more abrupt. The final panel is filled entirely with swirls and serpentine brushstrokes in deep, bold hues. A large, abstracted version of the plum blossom bursts with energy.
In this work, the plum blossom retains its traditional Japanese symbolism of cyclical, springtime renewal. However, Steir is also recalling the historical influence of Japanese prints on early Modernist painting. Furthermore, she participates in this tradition of influence and artistic renewal with continued movement toward abstraction.