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Spring 2014 Gallery Guide january 28 – May 17


The Abstract Nature of H.A. Sigg


ermann Alfred (H.A.) Sigg was born in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1924. He spent his youth working on the family farm in the hills on the outskirts of the city, yet his heart was always devoted to art. Determined to become an artist, young Sigg disobeyed his father’s disapproval of a career in art, ultimately forfeiting his inheritance of the family farm. Sigg had dreamed of attending art school in Paris; however, the city was still reeling from the effects of World War II and Nazi occupation. In 1944, he began his studies at the School of Applied Art in Zurich where he stayed until 1947. Still seeking greater opportunity and a richer arts community invested in the avant-garde, Sigg fulfilled his dream and finished the academic year at the Académie André Lhote in Paris.

Following his completion of art school, Sigg began working on commissions from various churches in Switzerland to design stained glass windows. This experience inspired the artist’s later, color-rich abstract murals created for public spaces. During this time he supplemented his income with commissioned portrait paintings. The portraits, along with Sigg’s other figural works produced in the early 1960s, were set primarily in interior spaces. The contemplative character of these early works clearly illustrate the artist’s interest in passive and meditative environments. Freeing himself from the scenes depicted, Sigg became an observer of the world around him. This self-imposed separation continued throughout his career, culminating in his landscapes where the artist avoids the attempt to control his surroundings.

H.A. Sigg (Swiss, b. 1924) In the Land of the Rivers V, 1993 Acrylic on canvas Collection of Daniel Sigg, courtesy of the Kouros Gallery, New York

The transition in Sigg’s work from figural to abstract did not occur until the late 1960s when he turned his attention to landscapes. Even his early landscapes featured realistic references such as horse racing, farm fields, and grazing herds of cattle and sheep. His landscapes were depicted from a bird’s eye view, similar to the vantage point Sigg might have seen on his family farm in the hills surrounding Zurich. Although he desired to leave farm life behind him, the relationship he developed with the land at a young age continued to play a vital role in his later work. Sigg’s most distinctive aesthetic change occurred in the late 1960s, when he made the complete transition from representation to abstraction. In 1968 he traveled to Southeast Asia in partnership with Swissair. During these trips as an artist-in-residence, Sigg traveled in the cockpit of commercial planes sketching the landscape. It was during trips to locations in Nepal, China, India and the Middle East that Sigg developed an appreciation for architecture, a theme later incorporated in a number of his canvases. While traveling to South Asia for Swissair, Sigg was afforded the unique perspective of looking down at the vast landscape. From 30,000 feet above the Earth, what was once clear and defined became abstract. Trees, fields and bodies of water became planes of color, indistinguishable as separate objects but still containing individual tones. Patches of land were either obscured by clouds or illuminated by the sun, which added to the variation of colors that Sigg observed. He conveyed the blurring and melding of the environment through a complex layering and mixing of pigments, and a distinct lack of solid hues, so that each block of color contains depth and volume. This eventually led to

H.A. Sigg (Swiss, b. 1924) The Course of the Rivers III, 2010 Acrylic on canvas Collection of Daniel Sigg, courtesy of the Kouros Gallery, New York

his interest in Color Field painting and lyrical Abstract Expressionism as seen in paintings such as The Course of the Rivers III. The catalyst for Sigg’s dramatic change from figural works to abstract landscapes derives from many factors related to his travels after the late 1960s. A renewed attention to the landscape appears to free Sigg, allowing him to explore the world beyond the confines of interior spaces as depicted in his early works. From an aerial viewpoint Sigg was able to explore space as an infinite realm from beyond even a bird’s eye perspective. No matter

how he tested his new found freedom, his abstract landscapes are constructed with anchored forms of horizontal or vertical registers. Although Sigg allows the imagery to extend beyond the confines of the canvas, he is in fact still limiting his view to a specific fragment of the vast landscape. Metaphorically, the meandering rivers that expand beyond the limits of the painted surface represent the ever flowing lifecycle – a theme explored by Abstract Expressionists beginning in the 1940s. Sigg, however, appears to study small portions of this larger concept by avoiding the depiction of the beginning or end of a waterway. Sigg’s experiences in the cockpit of the Swissair planes allowed him to recognize the limitations of how much the eye could see at any given time. This approach leaves as much to the imagination as possible. As illustrated in the painting In the Land of the Rivers V, just as water flows at changing speeds along linear paths or offshoots into complex systems shown in The Branch, Sigg uses his art to express his insight into the varying direction that one’s life can take.

Sigg’s introduction to temple architecture during his travels to the Far East made its way into his work as seen in several paintings and sculptures. The inspiration for doors and portals in works such as Mystery and Untitled II draws from his exposure to diverse artistic traditions found in India, Cambodia and Thailand. These features mark the only return of an interior or man-made space in Sigg’s later works. Space does not appear to act as a limiting factor in the emotional separation found in his earlier paintings from the 1960s. The design and symbolism of Hindu temples and Buddhist shrines provided the foundation for his meditative approach to seeing the world around him. Drawing inspiration from these experiences allows Sigg to delve deeper into the development of and meaning behind his works. Upon returning from one of his trips to Asia in the early 1990s, Sigg reached a point in which he felt that he could no longer express his ideas solely in two-dimensional form. Inspired by the tangible quality of sculpture and its connection with architecture found in Hindu temples and Buddhist shrines, he began a series of small three-dimensional pieces that can be compared to ancient Khmer statuary. Sigg’s complex layering of materials, a feature also found in his landscape H.A. Sigg (Swiss, b. 1924) Untitled 12, 1994 Wood, plastic, steel and acrylic paint Collection of Daniel Sigg

paintings, present a totemic character as seen in Untitled #12. Inspired by the human scale of religious structures he visited in the East, Sigg blended the figure and architecture as a single unit. One does not exist without the other, and sculpture no longer serves as architectural decoration. Using remnants of frames and other materials found in his studio Sigg constructed a new visual vocabulary much like Louise Nevelson’s iconic assemblages. During his brief exploration of sculpture between 1993 and 1995, Sigg continued painting the landscape. It was during this period that he began the expansive series titled, In the Middle Realm. Including more than 30 paintings, this body of work demonstrates a clear connection between his two-dimensional renderings and sculpture, as seen in the pairing In the Middle Realm XXIII and Untitled 8. The same basic tenets of composition can also be seen in Sigg’s subsequent collage and acrylic on paper works created in the late 1990s and the first decade of the 20th century. This new body of work contains many visual similarities to Sigg’s paintings on canvas such as a painterly approach of applying pigment loosely to the substrate, his adherence to depicting river imagery, and his lack of pure coloration as he relies on the layering of pigment. Continuing the use of geometric forms such as doors and portals, Sigg emphasizes the repetition of rectangular shapes.

(above) H.A. Sigg (Swiss, b.1924) The Branch, 2010 Acrylic on canvas Collection of Daniel Sigg, courtesy of the Kouros Gallery, New York (left) H.A. Sigg (Swiss, b.1924) Mystery, 2003 Acrylic on canvas Collection of Daniel Sigg (below) H.A. Sigg (Swiss, b.1924) Untitled II, 1993 Acrylic on canvas Collection of Daniel Sigg

H.A. Sigg (Swiss, b. 1924) Small Sign II, 2007 Acrylic on canvas Collection of Daniel Sigg

For example, what sets apart the collages, Untitled #6 and Untitled #18, from his other paintings is the use of a smaller format, prominently placed calligraphic black ink, more sharply delineated lines, less dramatic use of texture, a greater exploration of negative space, and an increased number of vertically-orientated elements. Like his foray into sculpture, his collages represent another outlet for depicting the landscape and river imagery with diverse media. Over the course of 70 years of artistic production, H.A. Sigg has continued to explore the world around him and the way he represents what he sees. His use of color and perspective are essential factors in defining the expressive qualities evoked by his experiences and his particular vantage point. Sigg’s use of varied media effectively allows the artist to explore the complex nature of all things. From the rolling hills of farmland in Switzerland to the winding rivers of Europe and Asia, he draws inspiration directly from the landscape. Although the very nature of Sigg’s artistic expression is influenced by the world around him, the artist is most at home meditatively observing the world through the lens of abstraction.

(above) H.A. Sigg (Swiss, b. 1924) In the Middle Realm IV, 1995 Acrylic on canvas Collection of Daniel Sigg (right) H.A. Sigg (Swiss, b. 1924) Untitled #6, 2002 Acrylic and collage on paper Collection of Daniel Sigg (below) H.A. Sigg (Swiss, b. 1924) The Bend, 2004 Acrylic on canvas Collection of Daniel Sigg

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Miami University Art Museum - Spring 2014 - H.A. Sigg Exhibition Guide  

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