If you put plaster on someone, you get an accurate record of bones and bone structure. They are portraits; yet, I don't do details by which we ordinarily recognize people. They're portraits in the same way that you recognize a friend walking down the street from a block away.1
1 Phyllis Tuchman, "Interview with George Segal," Art in America 60, no. 3 (May-June 1972): 77.
Walking Man (1966) does not at first seem to belong to the artists-at-work series. Painter Larry Poons, who posed for the piece as if he were standing by a loft building gate, is not identified in the title because this is not a conventional portrait. "Pretend you're cold, hunch your shoulders," Segal said to his Green Gallery colleague. Segal has made many sculptures with people walking, and several have figures in front of doorways. In this instance, he wryly used a metal grate whose patterning has a passing similarity to Poons's dot paintings, and the red field against which the white plaster figure and the black metal are seen also recalls his canvases. By thus suggesting connections with his friend's art, Segal reminds us that in our everyday surroundings we too may often pass commonplace images that resemble art.1
1 Phyllis Tuchman, George Segal (New York: Abbeville, 1983), p. 49.
The look of these figures is both accidental and planned. I usually know generally what emotional stance I'd like to have in the finished figure and I ask the model to stand or sit in a certain way. That model though is a human being with a great deal of mystery and totality locked up in the figure. In spite of my technique certain truths of bone structure are revealed and so are long-time basic attitudes of response on the part of the model. If you have to sit still for an hour you fall into yourself and it is impossible to hide, no matter the stance.1
1 Henry Geldzahler, Interview with George Segal (1964), in Geldzahler, Making it New: Essays, Interviews, and Talks (New York: Turtle Point Press, 1994), pp. 61-62
You walk around in the woods and, depending on how aware you are and how trained you are to see things, you see marvelous things. And it doesn't have to be the woods—in the city you see relationships, things there because you're aware of these things….You might see a marvelous formation of taxicabs or something…I guess when it comes to art…it's sort of a distillation of that kind of perception.1
1 Larry Poons in an interview with Dorothy Seckler (18 March 1965), (Washington: Smithsonian Archives of American Art <http://archivesofamericanart.si.edu/collections
Although the title Walking Man indicates a generic subject, plaster casts inevitably refer to specific individuals. This cast was formed on the painter Larry Poons (b. 1937), who was a colleague and friend of Segal's. Poons's canvases from the 1960s show an affinity with the visual effect produced by the black and red portal behind the plaster figure. Preserving a fleeting sense of urban experience, Segal's work seems decidedly sympathetic to Poons's conception of art as the latter articulated it in 1965: "In the city you see relationships…because you're aware of these things…You might see a marvelous formation of taxicabs or something…I guess when it comes to art…it's sort of a distillation of that kind of perception."1
1 Dorothy Seckler Interview with Larry Poons (18 March 1965), Smithsonian Archives of American Art <http://archivesofamericanart.si.edu/collections