Published in the New Bedford Standard-Times, December 23, 2010
Sculptor George Segal is best known for his dramatic tableaus, filled with life-sized figures, that explore significant moments in human history. The Pop artist, who died in 2000 at age 76, was inspired by such events as the 1970 shooting at Kent State University, and by Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Fireside Chats during the Great Depression.
The exhibit "George Segal: Fragments and Pastels," now on display at UMass Dartmouth's University Gallery in the Star Store, reveals a less familiar selection from the artist's oeuvre. The show includes sculpted segments of the human form, mounted on the wall or displayed on pedestals, along with framed figures drawn in bright pastel on toned paper. While these artworks are indeed "fragments" of the body, they appear as completely considered expressions rather than studies.
Segal emerges as an artist who loved to play with strong color and active marks, and who understood the impact of both the delicate gesture and the dramatic stance.
"Two Hands Over Breast" shows a cropped closeup of the model's chest, with one hand clasped over her shoulder, the other hand circling her wrist, and her left breast below her hands. The rough surface is a mottled mixture of pink and purple, with an unexpected bold blue delineating the shaded edges along the breast and hands. The model's personality is apparent here not only in her motions but in the elaborate rings adorning her fingers. The shapes and angles of this work contain a subtle power that equals the overt drama of Segal's larger pieces.
The sculptor perfected an unusual technique, one that can be discerned by viewing both the inner and outer surfaces of the artworks on display here. He would wet and wrap plaster bandages around the model's body, even her face, then gently remove the hardened shell once the bandages had dried. This process provided an exact replica of the cast body, including details like buttons on clothing or wrinkles on skin. Either the plaster formation itself was considered the sculpture, or a mold and then a bronze casting was taken from it.
Segal then used the forms as silent players in the scenes he arranged. These artworks varied from the solitary fragments shown in this exhibit to complex multiple-figured public sculptures such as "The Holocaust," located in San Francisco's Legion of Honor Park.
Curator David B. Boyce is in a unique position to create this show, as he was both a personal friend of Segal's and one of his models. In particular, Boyce served as one of four models for "Gay Liberation," a commissioned monument to homosexual rights now standing in New York City's Christopher Park.
The exhibit is highlighted with text in Boyce's own words, describing notable aspects of the artworks on display. This documentation, in conjunction with the sculptures themselves, helps to reveal Segal both as an artist and as a man. The show's catalog contains an articulate and moving personal essay by Boyce, detailing his interactions with Segal and revealing the 1970s as a pivotal time in the development of modern art.
By the time you leave "Fragments and Pastels," you feel you have had an actual visit with Segal. The show stands as a revelation of Segal's compassion and his intelligence. It is also a lesson in art history, the creative process, and the potential of the human form to engage the imagination.
The exhibit was organized by gallery director Lasse Antonsen in conjunction with the Helen and George Segal Foundation.
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