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H. A. Sigg: Eros und Fluss
by Fritz Billeter | german

There’s an anecdote that goes like this: Hermann Alfred Sigg once painted a few pictures for Swissair and occasionally took payment in the form of free flights in the cockpit. Eastern Asia caught his attention, in particular the captivating sight of rivers winding their way through vast plains. A recurring motif or an immutable formal structure? One thing is instantly certain: Sigg’s river paintings are more than just an impressionist vision of landscape. What he saw jiggled images tucked away deep within the recesses of his mind, an “inner Asia” that insisted on taking shape.

And the rivers that take shape in his paintings are new, unspoiled and – to use an environmental buzzword – sustainable. The artist has been painting inexhaustible variations of them since 1968. They may be transformed into far Eastern glyphs; they flash like the lashings of a whip; they sparkle like filigree jewellery; they are green snakes winding their way through a mosaic of olive green, ochre or cinnamon coloured rectangular planes, reminiscent of farmland. The chromatic choice may well be a nod to Sigg’s childhood and youth: he grew up in the country, on his father’s farmstead.

Hermann Sigg is a versatile artist. Alongside the river paintings, he has been working since 1973 on a series of nonfigurative depictions of seas and skies. And in 1993 he started creating paintings and sculptures with a conspicuous central axis that likely took inspiration from a journey to Taiwan, Hong Kong and China. Sigg’s remarkable production of coloured windows for religious and profane spaces reached a climax in the eight windows he designed for the Protestant church in Fribourg. There is no room here to elaborate even minimally on the many aspects of Sigg’s oeuvre but I would like to single out one aspect that, to my mind, has not received the attention it deserves: the role played by eroticism.

On looking at the work of Sigg’s Swiss contemporaries, one is struck by the fact that they did not paint nudes in order to glorify their beauty. Take La belle du Dézalay by René Auberjonois: she is anything but “belle”. in fact, she even has a touch of the grotesque. And Max Kämpf’s nudes seem to be shivering and exposed. In contrast, Sigg celebrates the woman’s body – and the man’s as well, as shown in his lithographs for the Song of Solomon. His sensuality is uninhibited without being flagrant. The beauty of women, as Sigg rendered it, might perhaps best be described as gracious and graceful, a reconciliation between sensuality and spirit. What’s more, Sigg’s eroticism is not confined to the figure. The bays and coastlines of his riverscapes clearly evoke associations with female figuration.

A stillness informs everything Hermann Sigg paints. His erotic work is no exception. He values stillness above all else. Many is the time that he has mentioned it to me, “All I want is for people to become still when they look at my pictures.”

Fritz Billeter Gebohren 1929 in Zürich; Schulen und Universität in Basel; Rückkehr nach Zürich; Lehrer an verschiedenen Gymnasien; 1971 bis 1995 Kulturredaktor am Tages-Anzeiger; seither freier Publizist. Zahlreiche Bücher über Kunst: über Monografien und grundsätzliche Themen.

Letzte wichtige Veröffentlichung: Fritz Billeter et al. "68, Zürich steht Kopf, Rebellon, Verweigerung Utopie", hrsg. Fritz Billeter, Peter Killer, Verlag Scheidegger und Spiess, Zürich, 2008



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