We Have Fantasies About Sitting Closer to Nature (1991)
Pastels on Heavy Wove Paper
24.0 x 39.5 x 0.0
University Club of Chicago
Hollis Sigler’s professional career was pervasively intimate, at times boldly visualizing personal pain and family losses in her public artworks. While her subject matter often came from a place of biography, her legacy is a testament to the timeless, humanistic power of artwork.
Hollis Sigler (1948-2001) was born in Gary, Indiana.
She earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts from Moore College of Art in 1970 and her Master of Fine Arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1973. While in school, she worked in both photorealist and abstract expressionist styles, but soon embraced a “childlike,” self-taught formal style, which came from her view that patriarchal culture and academia negatively associated women with children. Her narrative compositions often included a female protagonist in domestic, suburban, or landscape environments.
Throughout her career, she utilized symbols, such as paper lanterns, birds, and stars, to enhance her work’s mysterious narrative quality. But Sigler was conscious not to make her art solely biographical, alternatively opening them up to feel accessible for “everywoman.” In 1985 Sigler was diagnosed with breast cancer, which later spread to her bones and took her life in 2001.
Her work from 1990 until her death grappled with her personal battle with cancer, including images of broken or fragmented bodies, vacant rooms charged with a looming presence, and text unearthing the pain and illness. Sigler received numerous awards, including the Chicago Caucus for Women in the Arts Lifetime Achievement Award and an Honorary Doctorate from Moore College of Art.
Her social convictions for implementing a “naïve” painting style and autobiographical subject matter is forever imbued in her work, making it a contemporary beacon of strength and giving her a prominent place in Chicago art history.
We Have Fantasies About Sitting Closer to Nature (1991) was created after Sigler’s first diagnosis of breast cancer in 1985.
The composition is of a mountainous scene foregrounded by a body of water, shoreline, and three trees. The title of the work frames the scene in a pale yellow banner at the top edge of the composition with slightly curving vertical strokes of light blue and pale purple beneath, giving the affect of wind or clouds lifting it into the sky.
Through her “naïve” formal approach, Sigler used layering, size, and placement on the surface, to create a sense of compositional space. Placement on the surface is a formal quality where components of the scene that appear farther away are placed higher on the surface of the composition, such as the sky and mountains, while the “closer” areas are placed lower on the composition, such as the rich yellow shoreline and blue water. Sigler also used layering to create a sense of space, as seen in the three tall trees which are painted atop the shore and mountain terrain, therefore showing that they are closer to the viewer and farther from the background landscape.
In the lower central edge of the composition, a light yellow shore contains the material remnants of unseen people. Two green and yellow lawn chairs sit positioned towards each other, alluding to visitors along the water’s edge. To the right, a single flip-flop lays casually abandoned without its partner, while other pieces of clothing, shoes, and a cooler are peppered about. In Sigler’s artistic practice, clothes can represent the merging of male and female figures or symbols of love. Along the shore is a gray box-like A-frame structure. The lighter gray center of the A-frame shows the shadow of a small human form in the lower right corner and a non- descript half-circle in the middle.
The scale of the structure and human shadow shape suggest that this could be a toy within a child’s playpen or small tent. It is through the absence of figures and presence of their material effects that Sigler’s scene awakens the viewer to envision their place in the tranquil terrain. The work is framed with a deep purple wooden frame that is accented with yellow and purple flowered ivy. Ivy is a key symbol throughout Sigler’s career and symbolizes curing something negative.
In this work, Sigler delineated a welcoming place of nature imbued and framed with her artistic symbols of love, human connection, and healing.
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