Disappointed by the possibilities offered by painting, George Segal developed a new kind of visual language in the 1960s by producing human figures – for the most part life-sized – that were moulded and cast in plaster of Paris. They retain their white tone without being individualised, leading to a combination of abstraction and figurative depiction. The plaster does not – as is so often the case in the artistic process – serve as the form: instead, the shells, which are cast in accordance with his models, constitute the sculpture itself. His environments and settings show everyday situations such as a guest standing at the bar, a couple in love in the stairwell, a bus driver at the wheel, a rock and roll combo, women playing ring-a-ring o’ roses or at their toilet, his art dealer Sidney Janis with a real Mondrian painting, or Lot engaged in incest with his biblical daughters. Segal’s work is generally concerned with questions of the individual in society, anonymity and human existence.
Nevertheless, Segal’s sculptures are more than mechanically generated facsimiles of reality. Starting with the idea of a certain pose struck by his model, he often makes changes to the cast while it is still flexible. In the next step, he reworks the entire surface. This process is what gives the artworks their unique surface properties, such as the contrast between impressions of intersection points and the structures and edges of bandages next to finely polished body parts in abstract marble white. Associations with sculptures from classical antiquity and the Renaissance are evoked.
His increasing interest in spatial and light conditions, i.e. in questions of composition and perception, led Segal to combine his figures with real everyday objects such as chairs, benches and other furniture, to group several figures together or to place them in largely fragmentary spatial situations. In doing so, Segal made an important contribution to the development of the environment as a major innovation in post-war modernist sculpture.
In the exhibition:
George Segal Sleeping Woman, 1970 Plaster on linen, plexiglass lid, wooden box 17,5 × 39 × 28 cm Museum Ulm
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