In the late 1980s, roughly around the time he learned he was HIV positive, Hugh Steers began to paint images of a small, cryptic being. Steers often depicted this child-like figure crouched on people's chests or clutching their head—as though she was trying to smother them. This imp-like creature recalls both the demon from Henry Fuseli’s The Nightmare (1781), as well as the ominous owls and bats of Francisco Goya’s aquatint, The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters (c. 1799), and reveals the influence of the Western canon on the artist's practice. In Gold Box (1988), Steers presents this figure blinding another as a snake slithers away from an open box. Referencing the Greek myth of Pandora, whose curiosity led her to open a box and release sickness into the world, as well as the temptation of Eve, this menacing composition reveals Steers's own fears and despair after learning of his diagnosis.
Estate of Hugh Steers
Schröder, Barbara and Karen Kelly, eds. Hugh Steers: The Complete Paintings, 1983-1994. New York: Visual AIDS, 2015, pp. 112, 200.