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The Golden Age of Russian Impressionism

Dennis Cigler

 This is the world of Dennis Cigler, an American artist who has lived and worked in Rome for more than three decades. Working in oil, watercolor, murals, printmaking and ceramics, the artist expresses his passion for ancient history, classical culture and myth. His Roman home near the Piazza Navona is an excellent example of Cigler's fascination with the visual deception known as tromp - l'oeil - a banquet of murals evoke the frescoed walls of a Pompeian villa, and the draperies, faux marbling, statuary and painted scenes all attest to his mastery of this ancient art form. 


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Dennis Cigler was born in Mishicot, Wisconsin, USA, in 1947. He began studying ceramics under Abram Cohen and Donald Reitz and later dedicated himself to printmaking under the guidance of Warrington Colescot while studying at the University of Wisconsin. After graduating from the university, he taught art for two years at William Horlick High School in Racine, Wisconsin. Some works of this period were selected for permanent exhibition at the Kitchener Waterloo Gallery in Ontario, Canada and at the open Door Gallery of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. At this time he was also awarded a medal for merit at the 8th Annual Exhibition of Prints and Drawings organized by the Oklahoma Art Center of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

In 1970 he moved to Europe, first visiting France before coming to Italy to settle in Rome where he continued his studies at the Tyler School of Art of Temple Univeristy. There he studied printmaking and painting under Romas Viesulas.

As he himself said, his first impact with Rome was disconcerting: after his sojourn in Paris, Rome appeared dirty, noisy and almost barbaric. However, with time he began to discover an attraction for the city’s idiosyncratic scenes and special light which continue to inspire his works. At the conclusion of his studies at Temple University, the artist dedicated himself for a period exclusively to experimentation with batik painting on cloth with considerable success.

The Centro Italiano Arte e Cultura di Roma awarded him their silver medal "Campidoglio" at the 2nd Biennale del Premio Internazionale di Pittura e Scultura "Oderisi da Gubbio", held at the Romanian National Academy. He also received one of three prizes awarded at the "Hommage to Ungaretti" international competition. Cigler has since then held a series of one-man shows and participated in numerous collective showings. At one of his shows the well-known art critic of the Rome Daily American, John Hart, wrote: "Cigler comes up with unique works of art, exotically brilliant integrations with flat surface. Simply as surfaces their decorative impact is dazzling. He produces wall panels here to be ranked with individual oil paintings, and top quality paintings to boot". Emblematic of his work are two large pieces to be found in the church of San Guercino near Florence. His batik work was also commissioned by the Michigan Opera Theater for both the stage settings and costumes for the production of Bizet's opera "The Pearl Fishers" in the 1978-79 theater season in Detroit, Michigan.

As a multi-faceted artist, Cigler has also collaborated with Salsoul Record Corporation in New York, Cinevox and RCA in Rome and has also worked as an illustrator for various magazines such as Casa Vogue and for the FAO publication "Ideas and Actions". For a number of years he was the Art Director for "Development" and "Compass", the Society for International Development magazines.

In the recent years, his artistic evolution has directed him towards the research and study of trompe l'oeil techniques, and his works can be found in and around Rome, as well as in Naples, Palermo, Paris, Barcelona, New York and San Salvador de Bahia in Brazil.


What is the essential character of this varied production? His art, was described some time ago by a noted critic as "brilliant, exotic, dazzling", fine words that do not, however, penetrate to the fundamental characteristic of his work that becomes more evident with time: his ecclecticism that allows him to apply himself successfully to oil painting, watercolor, and ceramics.

In each of these media he creates works which are diversely inspired, varied in subject matter but all equally fascinating. Interestingly enough, in an interview speaking of his work, Cigler said, "At this point if you ask me what the dominant quality of my work is I would respond without hesitation: contradiction The immense spaces and violent colors of my America, the Roman and Florentine nuances of my Italy, my own desire and my own eyes turned toward my Orient". This variety, made possible by firm grasp of technique, is essentially the expression of the curiosity and passion with which this artist looks at the world around him, whether this be the architecture of Rome, the landscapes of Tuscany and Umbria, or the faces, forms and colors of the human figure. It is the realization of an idea expressed by Cigler quoting Goethe, "We understand only that which we see".

There is, however, another element that binds together all the images of Cigler's work. It is the inspiration of something that is personally very dear: ancient history, classical culture and its myths. These elements, however, in many ways accompany him in his daily life. Dennis Cigler lives, in fact, near Piazza Navona in a fascinating apartment that he himself frescoed with decorative motifs evoking images of an ancient Pompeian house, displaying in an extraordinary fashion his unique creative and technical capacities.


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