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H. A. Sigg : Infectious Composure + Intellectual Integrity

by Peter Frank

The Man

A native of Switzerland’s largest city, H.A. Sigg nevertheless comes from a farming background on his father’s side, and grew up in the rural area near Zurich. He studied in Zurich and, after the war, in Paris. In his formative days Sigg painted the figure in a manner influenced by Post-Impressionist masters such as Bonnard and second-generation Cubists such as Villon - painters who favored a gentle application of paint and a luscious palette. Sigg turned to the landscape in the 1960s, applying the same tender touch and rigorous composition to his views of snow scenes at home and desert scenes in Africa as he had to portraits of patrons and paintings of nudes. Gradually, Sigg drew out the purely abstract qualities of these stylized views, until in 1968 he developed a schema that concentrated on the flow of water through land. Sigg’s approach to this theme was increasingly aerial, even cartographic; he was interested less in the qualities of water than in the shapes a river draws as it courses through fields and towns. In the 1980s Sigg often returned to the figure, but concentrated on expanding his vocabulary of shapes and colors in the exploration of landscape, especially landscape riven with water. Since then, Sigg has refined his richly atmospheric approach into pure shapes and colors inflected with a personal symbolism and a familiarity with non-Western practices such as calligraphy and the ritual masks and figurines of “primitive” peoples.

The Work

We see the world one way; we feel it another. Abstract art is about – no, it is – the feeling and the seeing at once. After several decades of post-modernist skepticism – about artistic purity, about artistic idealism, about the self-sufficiency of shape and color – the modernist values of abstract art are reinvigorating. Today’s neo-modernists don’t think their abstractions will save humanity, but they do hold out hope that it will improve the world, if only by one viewer at a time. A modernist artist for almost seventy years and an abstract one for half that, H.A. Sigg now paints paintings of infectious composure and intellectual integrity. In these expansive but intricately designed works, the dynamic forces of early and mid-20th century abstraction – Picasso’s, Kandinsky’s, Pollock’s – have been suffused with the repose of their less agitated counterparts – Klee, Mondrian, Rothko – so that the buzz ratchets down to a rumble, brightness softens into glow, vivacity tempers towards ease. This is not to say Sigg’s art is easy, on eyes or on mind; but it poses its challenges as invitations, gentle enticements, to look, sense, and understand.

The Impact

H.A. Sigg’s delicate, stately paintings can be regarded as landscapes or as moods – or, best, as both. Models of calm, quietly animated with subtly dramatic contrasts, the paintings’ luminous colors, cottony textures, and poised compositions lure the eye and becalm the soul, but stimulate rather than lull the mind. It is no accident that Sigg has named several of his recent works “Meditatives.” Decorous but not decorative, they provoke associations but do not dictate them, and they heighten awareness of general sensation, of atmosphere, even when they are not viewed directly but simply encountered in a room. Like rainbows, Sigg’s paintings open up into their surroundings. And if you concentrate on them, they and their surroundings both fuse with your consciousness. Are they depictions of landscape, or purely of mindset? In fact, they embody both, showing how abstract, meditative thought encompasses the perception of space. Sigg’s abstract paintings – and even his far more brittle and stylized church windows – almost literally put our minds in a “different place.”

Peter Frank is an art critic for the Huffington Post and Senior Curator at the Riverside Art Museum in California. He has previously served as art critic for LA Weekly, Angeleno magazine, the Village Voice, and the SoHo Weekly News; has edited THEmagazine Los Angeles and Visions Art Quarterly; and has curated exhibitions at the Guggenheim Museum, Madrid’s Museo Reina Sofia, and other venues around the world.




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