Hollis Sigler

Dart Gallery

Hollis Sigler is an unapologetic romantic. Her paintings are openhanded gestures of emotion, pictographs of the dramas played out in the recesses of our hearts. Like some duenna of despair, Sigler squires these over-determined episodes into being. She captures the small moments when the awful and wondrous enormity of what it means to live and to love reveals itself in a flash, when the alienation and disillusionment that are our necessary lot become suddenly palpable. There are no human figures in the 12 small paintings that make up the series entitled “The Angry Heart,” (all works 1989), yet the surfaces of these works are redolent with human presence. Sigler shows us rooms and lawns where the atmosphere of romance lingers.

Sigler’s signature faux naïf style, her predilection for a candy-colored palette, and handpainted decorated frames are all in evidence throughout this series of paintings in which the titles—missives might be a better word—are scrawled across the surfaces. A work entitled She Was Taught to Keep Things to Herself pictures a temporarily abandoned dressing room vanity table, a place for adornment and ablution. Anger Filled All the Corners of Her Soul is set in a large open closet filled with women’s clothes, shoe boxes and hats. Each item radiates a little red bolt of lightning, a palpable manifestation of the rage and frustration that animate these mute interiors with the spirit of thwarted love. Her Great Tragedy Was She Could Never Explain Her Suffering shows a nighttime bedside scene—pillows propped up, a lamp turned on, the nightstand cluttered with a pair of eyeglasses, writing implements, a book, and some medication—but the room is crushingly empty. These small, bittersweet tales are surprisingly potent aphorisms of the wages of being.

In three large landscape paintings included in this exhibition Sigler turns to verdant scenes of natural rusticity reminiscent of 19th-century American landscape painting. You can almost hear the cascading waterfalls in these paintings; cottony trees and shrubs congregate around these founts, evoking sacred groves, or shrines to a benevolent deity. Her Lips are Two Roses, Her Teeth are Pearls, and Her Eyes are the Stars on a Clear Frosty Night reflects this anthropomorphic quality, this tracing of the lines of love in the texture of the world. This painting is a natural explosion suggesting a stylistic fusion of Thomas Cole, Joseph Yoakum, and Frida Kahlo that promises a baptism of the spirit.

James Yood