Sunday, April 26, 2009

Hunting Seago in Paris

August afternoon, Champs Elysees, 20x26 © The Estate of Edward Seago, courtesy of Portland Gallery,

About eight years ago I took a painting trip to Paris to put together a show for Galerie Kornye in Dallas. I did a number of shows with them and we sold most of them out. George Kornye became both a friend and and my dealer We had many long telephone talks where he would tell me about dealing paintings for so many years, and I would tell him the things I am now telling you, in this blog. He died a year or two ago and I miss him. He had a lot of style.

I walked into his gallery in Dallas about ten years ago and we hit it off. He had been a dealer of 19th century European art for about 40 years and felt like his clientele would enjoy what I did. For a number of years most of my work went through Galerie Kornye. It was, and is a lovely space with oriental rugs, marble floors, sparkling chandeliers and ormolu ( look it up ) mounted furniture. He gave me a showroom to myself he called the A salon.

I would do several major painting trips a year to supply Kornye. I made several trips to Europe to paint for George, and many to the deserts of West Texas.

I took my Seago books in my luggage to Paris with me and while painting there every day, I also went on a Seago hunt. Seago had a little sailboat called the Capricorn that he would take across the English channel in the 50's and 60's. He would take it up the Seine and park it at a yacht club near the Place de Concorde. I found the mooring and was able to work outwards from there and find his painting locations around Paris. I painted some of them. This is a means I have used to study the work of several artists. If I set up and painted in the same place an artist worked in the past I could get a feeling for the decisions they made there. By subtracting what they painted, from what is actually there, I am left with the decisions they made.

I guess you might look at my work and say "Stape, I don't see much Seago in there". But I have learned a lot from him. I am not, nor do I want to be a super loose painter like he was, but I learned a lot of design ideas from him and he continues to influence my color. When you see me using a reduced palette featuring earth colors, that is Seago influence.

I found this location and it was still there, pretty much as you see it in his painting. There was a sidewalk cafe right where he must have set up. He either pitched his French easel ( for that is what he used ) in the roped off area of the cafe, or perhaps it wasn't there at the time. Directly in front of this position is a heavily traveled sidewalk leading to the entrance to a large building and I doubt he would have obstructed that. I'd like to think he set his easel up in the cafe and painted there, flirting with the waiters bringing him cafe creme, while he smoked Galoise caporals and astonished the Parisians with his rapid and facile painting.

Despite the appearance of a lot going on, this painting is masterfully simplified, both in color and in drawing. In a way that is the same sort of reductionism that typified this whole era which gave us the stripped down glass architecture of the international school, the chrome and leather furniture and the A line dress. However Seago is able to use the minimalist aesthetic and still operate as a traditional painter.
Edward Seagos' art is a direct continuation of the English landscape tradition and he deliberately appended himself to the open end of it.

Notice the big simplified shapes he makes, for instance the Arc de Triomphe is one large shape. The variations within it, that describe its form are subordinated to the larger tone, rather than chopping it up into an assemblage of small pieces, it is one thing. The trees on the left are reduced to nearly one big shape and the architectural details of the upper right corner are all joined up into only a few shapes.

Seago made it look this way. He didn't see it any differently than you or I, but he knew how to make it look cool. He did this by making decisions based on logical ideas and principles. At high velocity. This painting was probably made in about 2 or 3 hours.

The color is minimal also. The whole painting is really a drawing done in yellow ocher, indigo, and an earth red. He put a minimal amount of blue up in the sky. It didn't take much in a painting as warm as this. Then he put in that red awning and there it was. The trees, the sidewalk and the buildings are all pretty much the same color. In the foreground the woman has a coat that is accented with a little yellow that is not an earth color like its surroundings. The spots of color he does use are so effective because they stand unique in a field of very restrained earth colors.
Tomorrow I will return, strap this squirming picture onto my gurney and begin its dissection, with the twin knives of opinion and experience.
I would like to do another critique feature in the next week or so. Send me some images and I will choose a few and critique them. I will of course photoshop your name off of the images and I will tell no one whose work I am critiquing. I will probably choose a landscape to crit, but send me what you like. I will survey what I get and see what seem like the best pieces from which to teach to the larger audience reading this blog.

Seago image from: Edward Seago, the landscape art, by James W. Reid
Published by Sothebys 1991


Unknown said...

Good thing your were making paintings and not ormolu for that gallery. You might be dead by now otherwise.

That must have been a great experience to explore Paris through paint. I would love to see you post some of the pieces you think were particularly inspired by Seago.

I would also love to see a post on a limited earth tone palate sometime. I It sounds interesting (and cheap as you mentioned earlier). I'll send you an image for critique too.

Stapleton Kearns said...


Nobody gets out alive.
I could do that. They were Seago locations but they wern't particularly Seago like in execution.Those are from the pre digital age so I will have to fool around with finding them, and then scanning them. It would be fun though, I will try, but not tonight.

jeremywallace said...

the other thing I think that gives this real dynamism is that the horizon is quite horizontal, there's a slight tilit down from left to right that gives the people walking the streets motion.