The sculptures of George Segal are not cast from life in the usual sense that the material takes the direct impression of head or body. On the other hand, these sculptures do depend on the real bodily presence of the sitters, whom Segal wraps in bandages soaked in wet plaster. The sitters are protected by a layer of burlap or plastic as the chill dead weight of the impregnated material presses on them, absorbing the contours and posture of the enwrapped figures. Each separate section is cut off when it has hardened and joined ultimately with others to form the lunar crust of Segal's plasters.
What you see when you look at a Segal, then, is not a life cast but a skin, bearing on its buried interior surface the negative impression from which a conventional life cast would have been made. The exterior surface flows continuously in a way that recalls his origins as a painter; the plaster is, so to say, like a curving, folded painting, with comparatively little opening up or penetrating of the solid volumes. Spatial drama, where it occurs, is achieved by the sudden lifting of the whole figure, on a scaffolding or a ladder, or dropping it to the floor, in sleep or stupor.
The work process, as it blunts specific detail and muffles individual personality, performs an essentializing function, converting the documentary human traces into resonant images of humanity. Segal is one of the few figurative artists of this time who can generalize without becoming sentimental or gross. His figures have an expressive clumsiness, a kind of dumb concreteness that is stressed by their build—thick rather than athletic—as well as by their Frankenstein's monster feet. (The monster, as defined in early movies, was touching in its approximation to human bearing.)
In the catalogue of the exhibition at the Sidney Janis Gallery in April , a work called The Artist in his Loft is described as consisting of "plaster, wood, glass, porcelain, metal." A plaster figure is shaving before a circular mirror framed by washbasin, cupboards, shelves and heater, simulating the corner of a room. There is a distinction here that____________________