French novelist GeorgesPerec once said that what he always needed—whether it was a book ofcrossword puzzles or a typewriter ribbon—was usually found amassedaround the edge of his bed.
Philadelphia-bornpainter Lisa Sigal has turned a light-filled studio in the Old AmericanCan Factory in the Gowanus area of Brooklyn into her own "Perecian" bedof sorts. "There are spaces you create for yourself so you can thenmake something creatively," she says of a studio where a pile ofinsulation board rests near scattered heaps of sheetrock, tape, paperand buckets of industrial paint.
These are the materials thatSigal turns into her meticulous constructions—which she calls simply'paintings.' Her discrete arrangements, composed from many seeminglydisconnected parts, are an idiosyncratic combination of painting andarchitecture, both "something you could actually crawl into andsomething that is just meant to be looked at."
Whether etchedinto walls or built up as a kind of encampment, Sigal's paintings makeuse of a repertoire that sees no difference between oil paint orsheetrock. "I use them all interchangeably, or even in any one drawingor painting," she explains. Sigal uses joint compound as anotherpainter would primer; but she cuts through portions of dry-wall like acontractor.
Large, scored pieces cardboard and paper—thegenesis of Sigal's first works-on-paper show at the project room ofFrederieke Taylor, opening Oct. 20th—are laboriously worked over layerupon layer, directly on the studio wall. In Sigal's words, these worksare "teetering between the most slight gesture and just being nothing."
These pieces, like the rest of Sigal's work, are not bound byany confines of a traditional drawing or painting. "The reason mypainting is no longer on a traditional frame is that I'm slightlyclaustrophobic, and for me painting [can be] a way of opening thingsup," Sigal explains.
Some of her works, in fact, have movedway beyond a simple frame, encompassing the walls of her studio. "WhenI first started working directly on the wall, I had to move from thatstudio. So I took down all the walls and brought the painting with me,"she says.
This peripatetic, 50-foot-long painting was laterinstalled at Artists Space, where it was framed by the existingarchitectural elements of the site. It proved to be an engagingdirection for Sigal, and this work marked a substantial leap in herworking method: from her earlier, semi-abstract, landscape-orientedpainting, to a new kind of painting practice where trompe l'oeil,fresco-like elements and the flatness of abstraction are intermixed.
ForSigal, "a painting can be a book, a fort or a shelter." But negotiatingbetween painting, sculpture and architecture is not at all a simpleaesthetic conceit: Whole art-historical treatises–called paragones–wereonce written on the anathema of mixing one medium with another.
ButSigal sees such interplay between different mediums as a metaphor forthe experience that inspires the work: the negotiation of urban space."You negotiate space with your neighbors (Sigal's studio neighborsinclude artists Glenn Ligon, Paul Ramirez Jonas, Janine Antoni, and herhusband, Byron Kim). You share walls, you share smoke. I'm veryinterested in the way we live on top of each other."
Threestudio mock-ups for a new series of 'tent-paintings' address theboundaries of urban space. "I've always been very interested in howpeople possess spaces, "especially those where you can really sense thelimitations—like a bed or a tent."
An Arte Povera-styleramshackle tent made from fiberglass screen, painted word andinsulation board sits next to its abstracted version, which in turnadjoins an almost Platonic version—as if the real tent is slowlyturning into an image of itself.
For her solo show, A House ofMany Mansions, currently at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Sigalcreated a staggered, "accordion-like painting" reflecting thearchitectural character of the museum's Ridgefield, Conn.setting—vastly different from the urban space surrounding her studio.
Forthe large piece, Sigal took photographs of stately homes, but also wentto some of the poorest places in Connecticut, to create a sort oftypology of what people call home. "I made this entire silhouette byusing joint compound on the wall and then painting it. On top of that,I created a shanty-town of sorts. I didn't have any materials, so I hadto scavenge, but it was absolutely perfect for the painting that I'minterested in, where you have to be very resourceful."
Sittingon an empty spool of telephone cable, in a studio filled withindustrial remnants, Sigal's role as bricoleur seems whollyappropriate. And it's not just material that she translates intopaintings.
"You look out this window here and into thelandscape, and it just collapses into one thing, "she adds. "I find thehistory of a city in those lines, in those corners."