In Official Letter (1990), Hugh Steers paints a woman wearing a bag over her head. Through its reference to hooding, the composition draws parallels between an execution and a positive HIV diagnosis while metaphorically referencing the US government’s willful blindness: its refusal to acknowledge the devastation of the AIDS crisis. In the early 1990s, Steers painted a series of images which feature figures wearing paper bags over their heads. Fellow artist and friend Julie Heffernan observes that Steers’ bag figures were indicative of a larger stylistic shift that was occurring in the artist’s practice as he began to create images that directly addressed aspects of AIDS. “A bag over the head means you’re shifting to a different kind of head, a different kind of persona that you want to paint,” Heffernan explains. “You put a bag over your head because you literally don’t know what you look like in this new incarnation that is fomenting.”
Estate of Hugh Steers
1991: Hugh Steers, Midtown Payson Galleries, New York, NY
Kass, Ray. “Hugh Steers at Midtown Payson Galleries,” Artforum, September 1991.
Schröder, Barbara and Karen Kelly, eds. Hugh Steers: the Complete Paintings, 1983-1994. New York: Visual AIDS, 2015, p. 216.