George Segal Pastels

Although best known as a sculptor, George Segal (1924 – 2000) drew throughout his career. Using pastels provided him with a space to play and experiment without judgment. In a 1977 interview, Segal said, “I like plaster because plaster is infinite and you can do anything. I like pastels because you get a big box with every color in it. You just pick up the color you like.” 1 He found freedom in the act of drawing, which, unlike painting and sculpture, did not beg to be finished, allowed him to focus on a model’s single gesture, and let him to use the pre-set colors from his pastel box. As his career developed, he eventually understood how his work in sculpture and drawing influenced each other. No matter the media, Segal was interested in nuanced gestures in monumental form. Segal used drawing in pastel as an outlet for his love of color which, in the 1950s-60s, was not reflected in his stark, white, sculpture. These early drawings were heavily influenced by de Kooning and Matisse. Expressionist in style, they depicted women in fully realized spaces, drawn with heavily worked color. By the late 1960s, Segal’s drawing style changed. Thinking of Mondrian’s early Chrysanthemum drawings he focused on the model and simplified the line to create works that were about negative space and the relationship between objects. Segal limited the palette and relied on bright, contrasting colors to create energized lines and spaces. He closely cropped the figure, filling the paper with the nude body. “I became concerned with big simple spaces, big masses of color, monumental form.” 2 Although Segal did not see the drawings of the earlier period as relating to his sculpture, this new style was revelatory. He came to understand the influence each medium had on the other and that his pastel drawing had in fact predicted developments in his sculpture. This realization allowed Segal to see how negative space in his large, life-size works, expressed intimate relationships between objects. With this in mind, around 1974, he began a series of brightly colored wall reliefs which had the nuance and sensitivity already present in the pastels. Intimate gestures were made monumental.

The pastels on the following pages are from 1964 - 1972. They show the dramatic bright color and cropping that eventually led to Segal’s wall reliefs.

Christa Savino, Director JNG, 2014

1 Constance W. Glenn and George Segal, “A Conversation with the Artist,” in George Segal: Pastels 1957-65 excat The Art Galleries, California State University Long Beach, Oct. 17 – Nov. 6, 1977, p. 8. 2 Ibid. p. 6.

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