Hugh Steers created work that was designed, in his own words, “to draw the viewer in through the lure of a comfortingly recognizable style and then confront him with a subject matter of a challenging nature.” This subject matter, while rarely explicit, always obliquely dealt with AIDS and the devastation of the epidemic, touching on various themes, including loneliness and alienation, as well articulating the fear of one’s body slowly succumbing to a deadly disease.
In Clean Up (1987), Steers paints a nude man cleaning up after another, who has passed out on the bathroom floor. Emphasizing the passed out figure’s vulnerability, the artist underscores the havoc AIDS wrought in even the most intimate of spheres as its victims and their loved ones were forced to confront the grim realities of the illness. At the same time, for Steers, bathrooms—spaces that are simultaneously sterile and dirty, private and universal—typified the disease. As he argued, “it ties in with the illness. The bathrooms represent culture and instinct in collision. … America, has a horror of it and an obsession with cleanliness and mortality.”