Strange State of Being
Hugh Steers didn’t just paint people at a time when figuration was sidelined—he painted gay men at a time when homosexuality was stigmatized, and painted them in the throes of illness, in tender couplings, and in moments of individual ennui. The work of Steers, who died at the age of 32 from AIDS-related complications in 1995, is on view in his fifth exhibition at Alexander Gray Associates, “Strange State of Being.”
Some of the works, which toggle between large-scale and intimate, depict moments of caregiving: in a pietà-like composition, a man with an oxygen tube in his nostrils and IV drip in arm lays in the lap of a cross-legged companion in Hospital Bed (1993). Other works are allegorical in nature, such as Gas Mask (1992), in which a suited man sits before a wilting American flag in a gas mask, perhaps signaling Steers’s anger at the U.S. government’s insufficient and at times openly hostile response to the AIDS epidemic. Still others careen into the realm of the surreal: in Gold Box (1988), a blonde little girl sits astride a male figure’s shoulders at the kitchen table, suffocating him in the folds of her red dress as a single snake slithers from a bread box—a modern day Pandora’s box.
Hugh Steers, Hospital Bed, 1993. Oil on canvas, 61.25 x 65.13 inches. Courtesy Alexander Gray Associates, New York. © 2021 Estate of Hugh Steers.