Portraits - Walter
Portraits Helen III
Portraits Helen II
Portraits Helen I
Text by Marisa Volpi
George Segal's portraits, executed in aquatint, drypoint and ceramolle on copper, seem to echo the shadows of Rembrandt and Redon, without however avoiding the unavoidable historical consequence of modernity.
I remember as one of the most violent experiences of contemporary art his plaster casts of human figures, in everyday attitudes, sitting at a table in the snack bar, standing next to a petrol pump or under a néon advertisement. The objects in the scenario are real - found objects - the plaster figure, man or woman. The metaphor of the disappearance is all too clear, but the space receives from it a melancholy, or even gloomy, and always engaging intensity, perhaps thanks to the simplicity of the idea and the deep root it has in the artist's thought.
Segal is not an artist with whom a direct comparison can be eliminated by including him on a label - pop twenty years ago, now what? - The dramatic, almost expressionistic. appeal to life, the testimonial character, even political, have dominated the aesthetics, as well as the art, even if the metaphysical effect of his solitary, in the hyper-civilized urban world, singularly recalls the painting of the great Hopper.
And now these engraved portraits come to us, it seems that the theme of the imprint has not changed, but it is as if this time the artist wanted to intervene in the first person. In working them he communicates his admiration for material concretions and illusionism; by Rembrandt, even if his keen eye looks at familiar, contemporary faces that have undergone alterations very different from those of the man of the seventeenth century.
Men and women this time leave an imprint in the black of the aquatint, an imprint followed by the artist with a different pathos, from person to person, while in the sculptures the technical objectivity of the cast made the imprint like a mortuary band of the whole horn.
The artist works with an analytical sign, scratching, carving wrinkles, hair, features, but it would also become virtuosity: see in the glass, the vase, the flasks, a kind of nature on the white table in front of the pensive female portrait.
Above all, the faces are as if attacked by an obsessive and, strangely, visionary gaze - black allows it -. So Segal from the everyday expression of whatever raises the subjects, suddenly, towards an upheaval, charge. a detail - hair, eyes, skin, cuts of light - and comes to tell us a bizarre, an animality, a sadness a mystery of man.
And it is also for this strength of the sign, which resists the grandeur of the measures, which, in these engravings, the protagonists not only do not lose, but also accentuate the monumental idea typical of Segal. It is as if the artist faced with the flattening suffered by man - a contemporary mass - tends to remind us of the individual in its peculiarity - not by chance Rembrandtian. The emphasis of the great apparitions avoids from the outset any possible melodramaticity, since they, in their grandiloquence, are nevertheless dominated and revealed by black.
Odilon Redon comes to mind "Thinkers love the shadow, they walk in it, and joke in it, as if their minds were in their element" These faces are jokes of nature and of society must man individual suffers an extra conscience which is not returned to him.