Seeing the current exhibit of Tammra Sigler's paintings at the G.H. Dalsheimer Gallery takes one's thoughts beyond these particular figure studies.
One thinks of how her work has evolved over the years, and how fortunate Baltimore gallery-goers have been to be able to follow that evolution through Sigler's many exhibits in local galleries and museums. One also thinks how unfortunate it is that the gallery where Sigler has been showing in recent years, Dalsheimer, is closing its doors in April after nearly a decade in existence along the Charles Street corridor.
Sigler's early work in portraiture had marked affinities with Matisse in its use of line and color. Then several years ago she started exhibiting non-figurative, more abstract paintings in which "shelters" were the center of attention. These shelters were not buildings per se, but were forcefully blocky suggestions of how buildings assert themselves in a landscape setting at certain times of day or certain seasons. She often took things down to their essentials in that series: a pink house form against a complementary pink ground and contrasting blue sky, for instance.
From there, Sigler became even more elemental by doing away with most references to the built environment and instead giving us abstracted landscapes that were recognizable as such because of how strongly she defined the color zones. This series, exhibited at Dalsheimer in 1989, had the lush painterliness that always gives her work immediate sensual appeal, but these allusive landscapes often seemed to lack the force and purpose of her earlier paintings.
Now, in the current exhibit, she has shifted tactics again by returning to figuration. In "Kristina Reading Bonnard," the nude model may seem to be as securely centered as one of those house forms in the "shelter" series. And yet there is also a slightly shimmering quality to this model, as if white light were brushing her figure in places. The indistinctness of the facial features also makes the model seem a tad less planted in place than the overall composition might initially suggest. The Bonnard-like melting of colors and the direct reference to that French painter in the painting's title are reminders of how Sigler's own painterly sensibility was influenced by early modern French art.
This School of Paris influence also can be seen in "Cordovan Kristina,"' an odalisque whose pinkish hue reminds one of Matisse's "Pink Nude." Or in "'Kristina Reading Matisse," in which heavy black definitional lines contain pink zones in a manner akin to the French master's.
Sigler transforms the recognizable world of the bedroom and of the studio portrait into zones of color that are by turns clearly demarcated and more melting in nature. In "Reclining on Red," we have no trouble recognizing the placement of a nude woman lying on a red bedsheet, and yet this human model also serves the painterly purpose of being a fleshy vertical anchor holding down an otherwise much more abstracted domestic scene. Also characteristic of Sigler's approach here is that the activated brushstrokes animate what is otherwise a passive subject.
Tammra Sigler is exhibiting at the G.H. Dalsheimer Gallery, at B 336 N. Charles St., through Jan. 12. For more information, call 727-0866.