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by Margaret Mathews-Berenson

Using his familiar vocabulary of abstract forms derived from a reductive language of personal sym­bols, Hermann Alfred Sigg continues his dialogue with man, nature and the sublime. His palette, ranging from deep, resonant blues to pulsating reds with an occasional passage of richly mottled green or a sliver of yellow ochre, is derived from observations of the real world. Distilled and filtered through the artist's mind, color is transformed, resulting in a fusion of the abstract and the concrete, which gives his works their undeniable power.

Although he has remained true to a visual code or lexicon of identifiable forms, Sigg is now less engaged with earthly reality and increasingly consumed with his inner life. Using painting as a path to self-discovery, much like Paul Klee or Adolph Gottleib, he harnesses color; gesture and symbols to find his place in the world. River imagery, which first appeared as looping, meandering forms in paintings of the mid-1960s following his travels to the Far East, has aptly become a symbol for the life cycle itself. Often seen in the guise of a dense, black, arcing or zigzag shape, the river appears in many of the recent paintings and collages. While the river remains identifiable, it is essence rather than substance. Like a memory or a dream, it is allusive and mercurial, sometimes breaking into fragments, sometimes nearly vanishing. In Small Sign I (2003)  and Medative V  (2004), it is  black, incisive and distinctive. In other works such as  Lingering in Contemplation VII (2000) and Dream I (200I), the familiar dark form is looser; its flow broken. In Memory I  (2002) it is in soft focus -- a pale blue swirl, alternately appearing and disappearing into the depths of the darker blue field surrounding it. Inevitably, it bursts its boundaries, exploding into seemingly random patterns of light and dark as seen in Blue, White and Black (2004) and Meditative Ill, also of 2004.A recurring metaphor for his own life's voyage, the river remains a touchstone for Sigg -- a reminder of the currents that exert untold forces on us as we experience life on earth.

As Sigg's river has become increasingly abstract, so, too, have the architectonic temple symbols from an ongoing series, In the Middle Realm, which the artist began in 1994 following a trip to China. 
There, he was struck by the majestic physicality of the central axis leading toward stone altars in Buddhist temples. Paintings from this series generally feature a soaring vertical column. Placed in the middle of the composition, it mysteriously recedes into the depths of the canvas -- a doorway into the realm of the sublime. Broad bands of rich color flank the exterior edges of these paintings like curtains opening or closing on a stage. Each work is a metaphor for the drama taking place in the artist's mind -- the merging of the  material world with visionary space.The monumental scale of many of the works in this series lend s further impact. A large vertical painting from 2002, In the Middle Realm XXXVIII, features two upright panels of deep bluish black pressing inward against a predominantly ultramarine segmented inner core, where multiple layers of red triangular shapes vibrate against the cooler blues like so many volcanoes erupting into the stratosphere.This central panel can be read as a fleeting glimpse of a dream, at once real and surreal. In the upward sweep of this sky-blue shaft of color, we feel an overwhelming sense of longing.

Symbolic color and references to ethereal light pervade Sigg's work -- the sanguine, hot reds reference emotion, desire or perhaps the insistent energy of the earth 's molten core, while the cooler blues imply peace, serenity, the spiritual or the vast unknown mysteries of the cosmos. Flickering light -- sometimes produced by the white of the primed canvas, sometimes rendered in thin veils of transparent color --dominates the  central portions of several of these recent paintings such as Dreamlike  (2002) and Green Room (2004).Here, we are drawn into dark netherworlds where irregular flashes of this magical light bring to mind reflections of moon light on a midnight sea or the after-- image of sunlight glinting on river rapids as we close our eyes.

In his new work, the artist applies color more densely, his quick, agile passages occasionally accent­ed with a bit of impasto, lending a sense of urgency overall. For all of their expressiveness, however, it is difficult to find traces of the brush in Sigg's paintings. They seem to have materialized quite mysteriously, their surfaces bearing signs of the artist's psychic energy rather than his actual touch. Layers of  colors  merge into subtly nuanced shades. With its gestural, bulging shape, Bend (2004) is rendered in multiple layers of color, each one resembling an expressive force field. In others, such as , Meditative VIII (2004) the abstract forms are painted in rich, luminous color; yet here the space is less illusionary and the forms more minimal, much like the artist's carefully structured collages, which have long provided another vehicle for Sigg's expressive application of color and exploration of form.

As Sigg's paintings and works on paper have become increasingly abstract, his agitated, scumbled surfaces speak even more emphatically of the human touch, placing him firmly within the tradition of Abstract Expressionism. At a time when digitally constructed realities and multi-media stimuli are increasingly the norm in contemporary art, it is refreshing to see paintings that address the nature of life and the human experience through palpable surface, gesture and the materiality of paint. With his personalized language of symbolic notations, Sigg probes the universal. Ethereal light and atmospheric space tug at our memories as if to awaken some long forgotten moment just the other side of the conscious mind.

Margaret Mathews-Berenson is an independent curator, critic and arts manager with over twenty-five years of experience in the art world. Her professional expertise ranges widely from nineteenth-century American art to contemporary art and photography. Her career includes curatorial work at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Metropolitan Museum. A dedicated arts professional and activist in the art community, Berenson advises on fundraising and development projects for arts organizations and other non-profit institutions. She has served on the boards of Artists Space, the Dieu Donné Papermill, Swiss Institute and ArtTable. An accomplished writer and lecturer, Berenson is the former editor of Drawing Magazine. Her articles and catalogue essays have been published in Drawing, ARTS and American Artist magazines, among others. A specialist in contemporary art and international cultural policy, she has taught at numerous New York area institutions, including New York University, the International Center of Photography, Christie's. 

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