George Segal

"The look of these figures is both accidental and planned. I usually know generally what emotional stance I'd like to have in the finished figure and I ask the model to stand or sit in a certain way. That model though is a human being with a great deal of mystery and totality locked up in the figure."

- Segal 1964

A painter and sculptor, George Segal came to be recognized primarily for his life-size white plaster sculptures made from casts taken from living models. Although he is associated with Pop Art because of his references to mass culture and his appreciation of the relation between the fine arts and forms of popular art, his interest in rendering the human form makes him a radical realist. His characters, white as ghosts, represented alone or in groups in association with objects, convey an impression of boredom and solitude. Segal was directly inspired by nature in terms of size, form and manner of representation, but seems not to have been influenced stylistically by his predecessors in the art of statuary.

Born in New York City, in the Bronx, Segal was the son of a kosher butcher. He studied at different universities before taking a degree in art education at New York University (NYU) in 1949. He produced figurative paintings of nudes, in an expressionist style, at the same time that he was making his living raising chickens. He gradually became involved in the New York art world and in 1956 began exhibiting in solo and group shows. In 1958, he sold his poultry business and converted the buildings into a painting studio. Soon afterwards, he produced his first sculpture, composed of an assemblage of canvas, plaster and wire mesh. From a student in his painting class, he learned how to use moistened plaster bandages, which would become his preferred material.

His models were friends and family members, selected according to the purpose he had in mind, and he set them in compositions that tell of everyday life, always in search of a language of gestures. The installation The Gas Station (1963) forcefully expresses the individual's feeling of boredom when called upon to repeat the same gesture day in, day out, unable to escape a dreary, tedious existence.

Segal's work has universal significance. With its underlying narrative of the lives of ordinary people, it is easy to interpret, and it is moving because of the human dramas it represents. Despite the realistic treatment, his work, in its subtlety and strength of expression, has earned a place in the mainstream of Conceptual Art in the 20th century.

Photograph by Donald Lokuta © VAGA (New York) /SODART (Montreal) 2005