Hollis Sigler

Dart Gallery

Hollis Sigler cloaks a woman’s dilemma in the folds of a childlike style. This neo-naive can render distorted perspective exquisitely, can wield hatch strokes to make carpets bristle, walls buckle, and planes slide so that spatial dislocations correspond to psychological uncertainties. Sigler makes very pretty, indeed feminine paintings while retaining a strong emotional charge and maintaining her feminist position in the war between the sexes. The title of the first drawing in this show—I’ve Got This Job Of Being A Woman, 1982—announces her theme, but it is high-key carnival color and illustrative stylization that carry the biggest visual impact. The tension between the neo-naive, nonthreatening, even nonsignificant direct style and the “heavy,” psychologically loaded subject matter which is declared in handwritten inscriptions across each drawing or painting is a calculated strategy. These inscriptions read as statements that should be made by the protagonists who are always missing from Sigler’s domestic narratives. In her dollhouse interiors (usually in the same format—three walls and a large expanse of floor) pieces of furniture are arranged along the edges of the walls, refusing to enter or engage the depth that our perceptual expectations assure us is there. The style or stylization is sometimes so dominant that Sigler even ornaments the paintings’ high-tack frames with linedrawings of spiders, gloves, or other related motifs so that her paintings look like the perfect pictures to decorate the interiors she depicts. Sigler has taken neo-naive to a mannerist high standard that renders the question of authenticity moot, but the works’ surface appeal is such that one is hard put to look for the anxious edge in the story line.

In Sigler’s soap operas the heroines are never present; they seem to have left in a great rush, leaving lights on and the TV still glowing. The viewer becomes the detective who has just arrived on the scene, reconstructing the action by examining the contents of the closet, the open windows (whose mullions not accidentally resemble bars), and the suburban accoutrements. The stories are told not by the actresses but by the trappings—the discarded heels, spiky black gloves, abandoned lawn chairs, and incredible variety of ceramic table lamps, dressing tables, and their accessories that furnish the domestic trap. Only occasionally does Sigler’s penchant for genre become too literal, as when, for example, a Superman suit hangs in the closet on the left and a woman’s evening dress on the right in Oh, If / Could Hide Away, 1982. She has eliminated some of the obvious theatrical devices of previous works—for example, the curtains that used to frame her stages and signal allegory; now the interiors are personal spaces, so specifically realized that they are sufficient stages in themselves for her narratives of interpersonal relationships. It is certain that something dramatic has happened to the people whose surrogates are the garments that hang in the open closets in these glowing, rainbow-colored rooms.

Sigler concentrates on qualities of light and the power of illumination in this series of domestic dramas. Although the compositions are fairly static, the illumination seems charged with energy and often provides a formal raison d’être. In She’s Always Looking For Love, 1982, the interior opens up to reveal another interior—a refrigerator stocked with provisions spills light onto the floor, while a tiny dollhouse lamp produces exaggerated spirals of light and a pulsating TV emits a mandala of luminescence. The bold yellow wedge of an open door cuts into a dark purple wall in a room where windows cast and pick out the reflections on the carpeted floor. In l Just Want It To Stop, 1982, the light that falls on the floor in confetti strokes is almost lurid. This is a stormy bedroom scene in which shirts, ties, and shoes soar through the air, blankets fly off a billowing bed, and the turbulence seems animated by a poltergeist or a nightmare. This upheaval cannot be explained away by the open window with flapping curtains; its origins must lie in a bad dream or a heated argument, as suggested by the title. In this case Sigler has exaggerated her velvety colors, her nervous strokes which are more like those of a child’s drawing than those of painting, to suggest a passion and poignancy that no longer depend on the title. The glimpse of the real-life bad dream is the moment of truth belied by the soap opera format and the storybook style. In this picture the resemblances and contradictions between the conventions of melodramatic fiction and felt experience are as convincing and vivid as the style: the image matters more than its inscribed intention.

Judith Russi Kirshner