Diagnosed in 1987 with HIV, Steers’s subject matter often speaks to the experience of living through an evolving Queer identity and the devastating AIDS crisis. For Steers, the choice of subject matter was not merely a means of contextualizing and documenting the realities of life and death experienced during the AIDS epidemic, but also a personal reckoning with his own battle. In the midst of so much anger, hatred and fear Steers explained his need for compassion, saying, “I would like to be able to act or have someone care about me the way some of the people in my paintings act or care about each other. It’s as if painting it will make it become real. That painting of a man holding another man is conjuring that tenderness, that hope that someone will still care about you and will be there.”
Following his 1991 hospitalization for AIDS related pneumonia, Steers began to paint hospital scenes. Speaking about these images, he remarked, “I really feel like the hospital paintings are affecting my life as I make them by helping me accept my own sexuality and my illness.” In Hospital Bed (1993), the artist depicts two male nudes—likely lovers—entwined in a hospital bed. One lax figure, sleeping, unconscious, or even dead, sports a feeding tube and IV, and is draped across the lap of his companion. Recalling Michelangelo's Pietá, which depict Mary mournfully contemplating the body of her son, who she holds in her lap, the painting updates this classic image of loss, and transforms the two men it depicts into avatars for the senseless tragedy of the AIDS crisis.
Estate of Hugh Steers
2013: Not Over: 25 Years of Visual Aids, curated by Sur Rodney (Sur) and Kris Nuzzi, La MaMa Galleria, New York, NY
2012: Cadmus, Steers, Warhol, Alexander Gray Associates, New York, NY
1994: Hugh Steers, Richard Anderson, New York, NY
Adams, Brooks. “Hugh Steers at Richard Anderson,” Art in America, April 1994.
Cameron, Dan. “The Return of Beauty,” Art & Auction, February 1994.
Groos, Ulrike, ed. Patrick Angus: Private Show. Kunst Museum Stuttgart, Berlin, Germany, 2017, p. 23, fig. 17.
"Hugh Steers." Yale AIDS Memorial Project, 2013.
Schröder, Barbara and Karen Kelly, eds. Hugh Steers: The Complete Paintings, 1983-1994. New York: Visual AIDS, 2015, p. 232.
Smalls, James. "The Soft Glow of Brutality." In Hugh Steers: the Complete Paintings, 1983-1994, edited by Barbara Schröder and Karen Kelly, 61-79. New York: Visual AIDS, 2015, p. 60.