George Segal was born in New York City as the son of Jewish immigrants. He developed a passion for art very young, and despite the disapproval of his parents, he would continue to pursue his ambition. Between assisting his parents on their chicken farm and later working on his own farm, he slowly gained his art education and received a Master of Fine Arts in 1963. He struggled in his early career to project his voice as he felt uninspired by the Abstract Expressionist Movement of the time. He was more interested in depicting images from everyday life, and his paintings began to gain recognition in the 1950s.
In 1961, Segal had a breakthrough which would set the course for most of his subsequent work. He was introduced to a new plaster bandage originally intended for youth art projects, and found that it was an excellent medium for creating casts. By draping the wet plaster bandages onto parts of the body and allowing it to solidify, he could create complete sculptures. Throughout the remainder of his career, he experimented with various ways to use plaster. He added color to some while many others remained a ghostly white. He created full bodies and fragments. He used himself as a model as well as family and friends, creating a personal connection to each figure. Much of his work focused on day to day life such as going to lunch or to the movies. However, he also skillfully presented very tragic scenes which illuminated topics such as the holocaust and the great depression. His hollow casts of simplified figures, often left unpainted, create an image of loneliness and of forlorn ghosts of the past. He received substantial acclaim for his statues and was commissioned for several outdoor public sculptures which were cast in bronze to withstand the elements.
While Segal continued to work in many other media such as paint, graphite, pen and ink, and pastels, his focus consistently was drawn to sculpture. This focus created a legacy which inspired the reinvigoration of figurative art in sculpture. He creatively combined Realism and Pop to make a lasting impact in the art world.
As I create my own sculpture, I can draw many parallels between Segal’s style and the piece I am making. Though I used an armature to create a frame as opposed to using a real person as a mold, I am still creating a figure utilizing plaster gauze. My piece retains a similar finish as Segal’s: a rough, crude texture in a solid, neutral tone. As I layer strips of gauze, allowing it to drape and clump around a figure, I imagine that George Segal once stood in his studio going through the very same process. Unlike Segal however, I plan to add materials on top of my base figure, so my finished piece will be busier and less austere. You will still be able to see the for underneath but it will be covered with scraps, partially obscured by other materials.
This video focuses on the sculpture Three Figures and Four Benches (1979) by George Segal (applies to question 1)
You can learn the story behind Depression Bread Line here (supplements question 3)
Curious? You can see more examples of his work here
I am a Maggie Walker art student in Richmond, Virginia. This blog section is a little window into my art process, research, and experiences. You can follow along with my journey as you scroll.