“The thing is, by dealing in content, it doesn’t restrict you to any style. It frees you.” – 1994 interview
The work of Hollis Sigler is to me, first and foremost, vibrant. Her paintings overflow with life, and each work feels intimate and personal as a diary page. But in their Technicolor exuberance there is a bitter-sweetness. Sigler emphasized content over style; at the dawn of her career in the 1970s, she abandoned the academic training from her Art Institute of Chicago MFA in favor of a faux naïf style. Her transition from realism was not a simple change of pace – it was a means to her end of rebellion against the exclusion of women from mainstream recognition in the arts. Art was not, as she said, “just for art’s sake;” there was a purpose to it, and later in her career its purpose for her became even more personal.
Sigler was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1985, and during a recurrence of the disease in 1992 it became the focus of her work. She announced publicly that she had cancer during a time when it still carried a stigma: “Up to that point, I had always been very careful to keep the “cause” out of my work. I decided that I now had to incorporate the cause, because as an artist I have an obligation to say something, to be responsible to my community.”
One of the most distinguishing marks of Sigler’s work is the writing which surrounds and penetrates the compositions. Sometimes the text is personal and reflective, and other times it is historical and statistical. But why was it there at all? “We are a society that is geared towards words…My objective is to inform. And I think it counterpoints the visual, because the visual always has to do with emotions. It is a way of putting the cause in the work, and making it very specific, which makes people notice it.”
The spirit of her work is communicative, generous, and open. She wanted people to be able to take away meaning from her paintings, whether it was feminism or the reality of dealing with cancer. Her candid, sincere style makes this passing of knowledge all the more enjoyable and understandable for her viewers.
About the Author: Carolanne Bonanno is NMWA’s communications and publishing intern.