Securing a Place in Paradise (1991)
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.
Securing a Place in Paradise (1991) was created in the latter portion of Sigler’s life while she was battling cancer. The composition is comprised of a mountainous landscape scene foregrounded by a fence line with trees and shrubbery that lead to a flat terrain.
At the upper edge of the composition, a pale green-brown banner declaring the work’s title haloes the scene, as light pink vertical strokes pillow beneath it like wind or clouds lifting it into the sky. Sigler used a multi-tonal color palette, accentuated by gradation and layering, which enriches the scene with a warm hazy glow.
The deep cobalt skyline cascades downward into light grey and purple, similar to the light effects of a setting or rising sun, which conjures a luminous aura behind the mountains.
A circular semblance of five black birds descends down across the sky leading the viewer towards the terrain below. Through her “naïve” formal approach, Sigler used hatching, a series of parallel unblended lines, and cross-hatching, woven and intersecting unblended lines, techniques to layer colors in and atop one another.
In the mountains, horizontal marks of deep magenta, light pink, and blue are intertwined in a textured trace of strokes and lines, which causes the viewer’s eye to mix the colors, otherwise known as “optical mixing.”
Found across the composition, this technique illustrates Sigler’s intricate color palette. A horizontal white fence divides the lower half of the composition from the upper portion. Behind the fence, lush plant life and thriving vegetation sprouts from the golden earth beneath it, while two towering wispy trees flourish above. But the bounty along the fence does not cross over into the lower half of the composition where the amber and deep green ground is barren of plant life or animals.
Across this vacant ground is a small white table holding a half- full glass accompanied by a single, empty chair. By not including figures in the scene, but showing their material presence, Sigler’s artwork invites the viewer to envision unending potential narratives. Who sits alone in the white chair waiting to cross the fence into a more thriving land? Or is the absent figure unhindered by the fence, leaving the viewer to contemplate their place in this paradise?
In this work, Sigler delineated a landscape scene imbued with lush colors of varied tones and hues that awakens a chance for contemplation and imagining
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