San Francisco

Hollis Sigler

Susan Cummins Gallery

In “Not Many Rest Stops,” Hollis Sigler presented uninhabited landscapes and interiors filled with modern-day memento mori. Resembling nothing so much as the scenery and props of a tragedy-in-progress, the elements of Sigler’s elaborately framed drawings and paintings narrate the continuing story of her experience with cancer. Over the past nine years she has explored social attitudes toward and treatments of this disease and of breast cancer in particular. She does so through the use of both words and pictures, hand-writing a continuing thread of text around stepped wooden frames, as well as captioning each image.

The matter-of-fact voice Sigler uses to discuss statistics, treatments, or her feelings about the approach of death seems eerily appropriate to the naive, almost childlike visual style of these works. A single phrase or sentence written across the top of each image—a sibyllike utterance such as “It starts with one errant cell”—focuses our attention on the real message of the scene depicted. “It starts . . . ,” for example, is lettered across a suburban nightscape of modest houses, lit by streetlights, receding into the inky dark. In the foreground, a line of little orange spears—the kind of jagged flames a child might draw—spurt out of the charred remains of one of these bungalows. There is no fire engine in evidence, though, and no neighbors—although the lights are on in the house next door, behind folds of curtains.

Clearly, Sigler’s message is not meant to be subtle. Over and over, she uses symbols and scenarios that are familiar and easily interpreted: a blasted hillside of burned trees; a flooded house, furniture floating away around it; or a dinner in front of the TV set, interrupted by a picture window being violently blown in, leaving shards of glass everywhere. These all suggest both the casual brutality of nature and the results of our inability to interact with our environment in a healthy way.

The houses that appear in many of these images are clearly stand-ins for the body. Open windows surrounded by flapping curtains offer a view of blue nothingness, reminding us that no one really knows what’s out there when the spirit leaves the body behind like old clothes. As if to further emphasize this, Sigler often includes images of party dresses—the kind of elaborate gowns little girls like to draw, gowns decorated with loopy tiers of gauzy-looking fabric or low, heart-shaped necklines, accompanied by lots and lots of accessories. In There Is the Possibility of Something Better Ahead, 1994, figures with wings drape ribbons around one such dress, à la Disney’s Cinderella, suggesting that we, too, may be taken before our time—before the party, the dance, the crowning event that signifies the realization of our desires and ambitions.

Maria Porges