© The Estate of Edward Seago, courtesy of Portland Gallery www.portlandgallery.com
Last night I wrote about Seagos use of very downplayed, restrained or "minimalist' color. Tonight I want to look at his shapes for the same thing. Making fine shapes is a root skill of design. Sago was a master of this in an era when that skill was common and highly prized. The fine arts arena was dominated by modern abstractionists who, like em or not, often understood well the making of fine shapes . But more importantly the great age of illustration was still going on, it wouldn't really die until the late 60's or so. Those guys really knew how to design and used fine shape making to get elegance, punch and appeal into their work. They had to design well, because their designs had to carry subjects like soap, girdles and kitchen ware that were not compelling images without some very creative arrangement.
While more interesting than a corset or cheese grater, this is still just a street scene and it would not be very interesting if it was presented in a matter of fact way. A straight photo of the scene would hardly draw our notice. Seago has "sold" us the picture with his dynamic treatment of it. The subject of the picture is his bold shapes and creative and expressive color.
IT IS NOT WHAT IT IS A PICTURE OF, BUT HOW IT IS A PICTURE OF THAT IS IMPORTANT!
As I have remarked before, that would make a dandy neck tattoo, maybe with some barbed wire and lightning bolts.
The shapes in the picture above are large, simplified almost to brutality and have great carrying power. Look at the right hand side of the picture. All of the buildings there are simplified into one big almost black shape. There are a few very subdued grey incursions back there, too subdued to break up the large forms, they are just enough to imply some variation in the structures back there. Then Seago hangs that white oval sign right on top of them. That's an attention grabber and an elegant exclamation point in the design of the painting.
Up in the right hand corner the roof top contains another passage made of the same elements, a big dark decorated by similarly reduced gray shapes.
The windows in the central white building are all different. No two are alike.If you squint at the picture you can see the pattern of darks formed by windows, dormers, shadows and lawn dart legged people. Seago is using a decorative pattern formed of deliberately unique and dissimilar shapes to grab our attention and then entertain our eye as we course through the painting examining them. There is a lot of variation for us to perceive and it holds us a long time as we examine them. That is one of the goals of great shapemaking, holding the viewers attention for as long as possible. Badly designed paintings are used up in an instant. We see all there is to see and move on on search of something more interesting. Seagos shapes are wild, unexpected, individual, and interesting above all.
Notice the pattern that Seago throws across the top of the painting with all of the differently shaped rectangular chimneys superimposed on the sky. Look at the negative shapes in the sky, the "lights". Again it might help to squint at them. Each shape of the bright sky is totally different from its brethren. they all have different areas (in the geometrical sense). There is a big One on the right, a small one in the middle, and a medium sized unit on the right. That's variety and Seago made that happen. He installed that! Every boundary of these shapes has a different angle and little chimney pots and the corners of dormers give even more variety and lace like crenelations to the edges of the shapes of the sky that shows through the apertures between those black chimneys.
Though there is a shadow across the foreground it merely decorates the larger shape of the road, not subdivides it into two smaller areas. He has kept the shape of the road BIG. Part of the skill of an accomplished designer is keeping shapes large rather than chopping them up. Variations within the large shapes are subordinated to the larger whole.
Gee, thats was not the easiest thing to describe! I hope you could follow all of that.