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The Art and The Artist, Effaced : Hugh Steers

Blue Rug (1995) by Hugh Steers

Art is destined to breathe even after the artist is long gone. It is meant to defy all odds, to outlive and to inspire. Having learnt about a piece, one, that hasn't been celebrated enough and since, lost in the mighty history of America, we find ourselves in a fix. It is the art that solidifies an old blemish for the United States of America - the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980s.

The HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, panned over a period of seven years before the first action plan launched by President Ronald Reagan took to some effective damage control before it failed to last for no more than four years. The same action plan was taken upon by president Bill Clinton but faced similar failures like the ones during Reagan’s tenure. It was not until President Barack Obama’s second tenure, that the number of deaths came to a stagnant low. To maintain consistency thereafter, President Obama also announced a three-point plan to tackle the epidemic, which has also been adapted by the present president, Donald Trump, who aims to stop new HIV infections in the United States by 2030.

Looking back now, it has been a definite and long overdue battle for the country, in the course of which, it has lost numerous artists in the prime of their lives; to name a few, actor Rock Hudson, basketball star Magic Johnson, tennis player Arthur Ashe and singer Freddie Mercury. They also played a primal role in arousing media attention and making the general public aware of the dangers of the disease to people of all sexual orientations. One such gem is Hugh Steers.

Bath Curtain (1992) by Hugh Steers

Hugh Auchincloss Steers, an openly gay American artist, who specialised in figurative paintings in a time when they weren’t recognised with full consciousness, lost his life to AIDS at the age of 32. In his last years, between 1983 to 1994, he made a set of multiple paintings that consciously brought AIDS, intimacy and the body into the traditional vocabulary of painting. Through these pieces, he gained attention for his expressionist and realist narratives of a life shadowed by isolation and mortality. The last five years of his artistic practice focused on AIDS as a subject matter, drawing on community experience and mixing dreamlike allegory with figurative realism. The final paintings amplify issues of death, defiance and compassion. His painting gives his audience a ledge, to dive deep into the personal lives of those who have since passed owing to the epidemic.

In his last known interview on September 1992, Steers said “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.” Brutal in every sense and in such a manner, that its effects are still prominent throughout The United States. Though tackled and subsided to a minimum for its citizens to know, Steer’s work put forth the stories of those who were hushed and left to fall back into an abyss of the HIV/AIDS crisis.


Visual Aids ( 2015, November 8) | Hugh Steers: The Complete Paintings.

Alexander Grey Associates ( 2015, February 14) | Hugh Steers: Artists.

Framers and Sketchers ( 2017, August 17) | The Poignant yet Ominous Art of Hugh Steers

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