RAM Talks Art: Art and healing: Hollis Sigler: Expect the Unexpected

By Melissa Seipel

Graphic Art Director, Rockford Art Museum

The work of Hollis Sigler, whose life was prematurely taken by breast cancer, is on display at the Rockford Art Museum through Jan. 10, 2010. Upon closer inspection of the Sigler artworks, one cannot deny the seemingly spiritual cathartic process of the work. Every title seems to be a sentence from an inner dialogue as private as a diary. That dialogue is one that conveys fears, hopes, memories and the wisdom of a weary traveler.

The raw statements are sometimes handwritten in inconspicuous areas, such as the frame spacer of the painting or on the outside of the frame itself. Seemingly simple in their message, their honesty and naïveté affect the viewer in a visceral way, and have the power to elicit an unintended vulnerability.

The next layer of dialogue is spoken in a visual iconic language. Hollis’ repeating icons of femininity, such as a vanity, but with smashed panes, becomes a metaphor for the cancer. In an interview, Hollis revealed she feels breast cancer is not only a crisis of having your life threatened, but a crisis of the violation of femininity, which is represented by the imagery. She also goes on to say her intention is to make more people aware of breast cancer, which goes beyond just creating the artwork.

Typically, art therapy takes place in a clinical setting and is a type of psychotherapy that utilizes different modalities of creativity and artmaking to improve emotional well-being, which is essential to healing. This type of expression can be especially therapeutic for individuals who may find dialogue difficult or, in the case of children, lack a vernacular capable of illustrating inner fears and thoughts. This exhibition clearly demonstrates that one can benefit from a personal catharsis through individual artmaking, even outside of a clinical setting.

It is precisely this nature of expression, which we find in the Sigler pieces, that makes this particular exhibition so essential and heartwarming. Sigler’s works continue to be an inspiration and a call to advocate for awareness of the insidious character of breast cancer. Upon viewing the exhibition, you are put in a position to get involved in the healing process. You become part of the dialogue as you are privy to her most intimate moments. The transcendental nature of her work comes across as a victory, if not over the cancer—as it ultimately took her life—but rather a victory of the spirit.

Contact Rockford Art Museum Graphic Art Director Melissa Seipel at mseipel@rockfordartmuseum.org.

From the December 2-8, 2009 issue

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