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Public Statues and Sculpture Association

George Segal (1924–2000)

Sculptor and painter, born in New York, the son of a kosher butcher and chicken farmer. During the 1940s, he studied at a variety of educational institutions in New York, including the Cooper Union, but in 1949 he bought his own chicken farm in New Jersey. It was the influence of the artist Allen Kaprow which persuaded him to return to painting. In 1958, Segal began to show roughly modelled plaster figures in conjunction with his expressionistic figure paintings. In 1961 he learned how to use medical bandages to assist in taking plaster casts from the living subject, and began to develop his trademark ‘assembled environments’, urban tableaux combining lifelike, though sombre looking, cast figures with already fabricated elements. Typical of such work is The Diner (1964–66, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis), whose subject also reminds one that Segal was a great admirer of the paintings of Edward Hopper. To start with, Segal’s figures remained white, but in the 1970s he gave them subjective colouring, suggestive of moods. In 1973, he received his first commission for public sculpture, and in 1976 his Girl in Nature was cast in bronze for Greenwich, Connecticut. His Rush Hour (1983–87) is in Finsbury Avenue Square, Broadgate, City of London. Some of Segal’s public commissions were mired in controversy, because of his tendency to use them to make pointed political or ideological statements, but a large proportion reached fruition. Most dramatically, Segal’s winning entry for the San Francisco Holocaust Memorial was unveiled in 1983 in the city’s Lincoln Park. In 1999 Segal received the National Medal of the Arts from President Clinton.

Bibliography: The Grove Dictionary of Art, Macmillan, London, 1996; W. Seitz, George Segal, London, 1972; P. Tuchman, Segal, New York, 1983; P. Ward-Jackson, Public Sculpture of the City of London, Liverpool, 2003, pp. 45, 51–52.

Philip Ward-Jackson, 2003