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Charlotte Townsend-Gault

Dwight Seigner
Galerie d'Art de l'Université de Moncton, New Brunswick, October 3 - 28, 1984

Vanguard, Vol. 13 #10, January 1985.
[ 1,406 words ]

Dwight Seigner belongs to that great number of Canadian artists who believe that their response to the landscape, their own local bit of it usually, in formalist terms, satisfies what they have to say — Dorothy Knowles, Gordon Smith, Ken Christopher, Ted Godwin, Tak Tanabe. While this will inevitably be seen by some as one of the many last gasps of modernism, or at least as flogging a very geriatric Canadian horse — an exhausted approach to an exhausted subject — there are several possible lines of defence. The most obvious is that for many people, still, the land and weather are dominating forces in their everyday lives, more important than those 'viable' subjects, the perils of post-modern culture. A second defence would argue that the vocabulary of formalism is so rich that it is nonsense to speak of it being exhausted, and that, manifestly, it continues to generate statements as interesting as ever they were to those with eyes so inclined. To the extent that these are conservative defences it should be remembered that New Brunswick is a highly conservative place. From 1978 to 1983 Seigner lived in Sackville, NB, where he taught in the Art Department at Mount Allison long enough to become absorbed by the shifting spectacle provided by light and seasons over the Bay of Fundy landscape — the flats and pastureland of the Tranramar Marshes and surrounding farmlands.

His treatment of colours, textures and tonal values is organized in a highly schematic manner. The first thing you notice is a tension between the subjectively rhapsodic and a scheme of blocks and triangles, often symmetrically arranged. It is a system that generates colour fields from coloured fields — the dun and smoke palette illumined by the solemn glow of dusk and the pink and amethyst it draws out from the Fundy shores.

It may not be irrelevant to think of Mondrian, since Seigner received his training in Holland, and then of Vasareley, artists who could have made him perceive the landscape as yielding building blocks of colour and texture to be shaped and assembled according to a predetermined scheme. Seigner's 'system' is first drawn onto canvas or paper. It provides the underlying structure and departure point and then comes to dominate the finished work. The schematic forms were generated in the first place, he claims, but the givens of the landscape — water, land, sky and their interrelatedness. However, in the works shown here, these 'abstractions' have been further reduced so that one is reminded of the rather simple geometries, complexly presented, of mandalas and other world diagrams. But the association with mandalas can be taken further. Seigner intends a system of self-reference internal to the work, seeking to re-compose his elements of landscape in a way that will suggest their rhythmic inter-dependency. He quotes Gorky with approval: 'Abstraction allows man to see with his mind what he cannot see physically with his eyes . . . to perceive beyond the tangible to extract the infinite out of the finite.'

At the same time the system of divisions of the field also acts as a multiple framing device for so many landscape fragments or vignettes each one worth inspecting for its own sake. Thus is the tension achieved.

Whether he is working in acrylic, watercolour or lithography, Seigner re-works and re-colours each area, brushing, stippling, scumbling, giving the effect of wind-blown grasses, sea, sky and ploughland. The technique produces the variations and accumulations that are its chief justification. But where the same texturing runs across all the divisions so that the divisions are bearing all the interest, it is, sometimes, more than they can bear. Then the internal tensions are not productive but merely obtuse.

The best of these works, and I am thinking particularly of Mandala for Jolicure, yield rich, dark patterns. They are more than patterns, more problematic, when the references to the Fundy landscape are understood. Because the land provides, and justifies, the forms, here, once more, the formalist approach to landscape can be justified.


Vanguard, Vol. 13 #10, January 1985.


Text: © Charlotte Townsend-Gault. All rights reserved.

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