Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Artist Profile - George Segal 1924-2000

George Segal has enlivened contemporary sculpture with his evocative plaster figures. He is best known for his down-to-earth scenes of humble characters in urban environments-a butcher shop, a diner, a localcinema. The familiarity of such mundane surroundings makes Segal's work, at first glance, look deceptively simple but it is really in a rich complexity of meaning. Phyllis Tuchman

In 1940, George attended Cooper union in lower Manhattan where he signed up for fine arts. He told his father he was enrolled in a commercial arts program. When the war broke
out, his brother was drafted and George had to return to south Brunswick to help support the family on the chicken farm.

At the age of 22, George returned to school in 1947. This time he studied art education at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. The contemporary art scene in New York was alive and vibrant; on the verge of replacing Paris as the center for painters and sculptors. In 1948, he transferred to NYU and received his BA the following year. His teachers were Tony Smith and William Baziotes.

George needed to make some money so after graduation, he started his own chicken farm. It was during this time that he
met Allen Kaprow. The two became friends and began to share ideas; struggling with principles of abstraction. George was working on figurative sculptures but also wanted to communicate philosophical notions in a modern industrial society. His early sculptures were very crude; chicken wire covered with burlap strips of plaster.

In 1961, a student brought George some medical bandages, cloth strips that would facilitate the setting of broken bones. "Immediately, I knew what I wanted to do," Segal told a Newsweek reporter. "I wrapped myself in the bandages and my wife put on the plaster; I was my own first model." Casting models changed his career and brought him recognition. George had found his medium.

During my summer, I also found the medium I wanted to work with. For some time I've wanted to make figures but didn't know how to go about doing it. George was my inspiration. When I researched his methods, I knew I wanted to start experimenting with the plaster. First of all, I'm drawn to the texture of the figure. I think it's more interesting than the perfectly smooth and realistic sculptures. Second, I'm interested in the way the figure interacts with the everyday objects and backgrounds. I think the two mesh well together as an art form. Most of all, I think I'm attracted to the Loneliness of his work. I heard an art historian describe Segal's work as the three dimensional Edward Hopper. I relate to Hopper every since I spent time at Cape Cod during the off season when all the tourist have gone home. Both artists have a feeling of isolation that I like.

Since the 60s, Segal continued to work until his death in 2000. Some of his awards include: The Frank G. Logan medal, The Mayer Sultzberfer Award, Rutgers University Hall of Fame, National Arts Award, Pratt Alumni Achievement Award, International Lifetime Achievement Award for Sculpture, National Medal of Honor, and the Federal Design Achievement Award.

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