Though her early work was loosely allied with Conceptual Art and Minimalism, Pat Steir's poured “Waterfall” paintings initiated in 1988 gained her critical acclaim. Profoundly influenced by Chinese painting traditions and techniques—especially the marks of the eighth- and ninth-century Yi-pin “ink-splashing” (or "flung ink") painters—mentorships from John Cage and Agnes Martin, and the harmony between man and nature espoused by Taoist philosophy, Steir considers elemental forces active participants in her work, intentionally removing herself from the action and allowing gravity, time, and the environment to determine the work’s result.
However, despite this painting's obvious debt to physicality of paint and the effect of gravity upon it, "Waterfall" retains a sense of delicacy, creating a tension between the tempestuous and tranquil aspects of the natural world.
As art historian Thomas McEvilley describes, Steir paints brilliant compositions “that are ravishing extensions of the tradition of American painting, imbued with the elegance of Ad Reinhardt and the dark spirituality of Pollock, the vigorous experimental dynamism of the abstract-sublime thread of the American tradition” (T. McEvilley, Pat Steir, New York, 1995, p.68). Steir is able to capture the essence of motion, the beauty of the natural world and the impressions of the senses.