Joe Segal, a sculptor reconnecting humans with nature

By Sara Orr

Joe Segal has always been struck by humans’ connection to nature. Being an artist local to St Augustine, he has seen how population increase and overdevelopment has affected our historic city.

Currently, Segal is spending time in the studio working on pieces for a show in the Lightner Museum opening in March called Clear Cut that is about this issue.

“The theme is focused on the transformation of our local environment from being more rural and woodsy to overdeveloped and overpopulated,” Segal said.

Joe Segal is an artist local to North Florida specializing in sculpture. His work is primarily minimalist wall-hung sculptures made of natural materials like wood and metal. His work is exhibited not only in the state of Florida, but New York, Atlanta and even overseas as far as Paris and Hawaii. He was born in New York, but came to Florida to attend Flagler College, where he graduated with a major in Visual Arts.

Photo courtesy of Joe Segal.

Segal said that his girlfriend at the time (his current wife) inspired him to start art classes at school after seeing his drawings

“I started college without a major. I really did not know what I wanted to do,” Segal said.

Even though he found his calling in the art department, Segal’s time in college was not linear.

“I went in and out of college, going home to New York to work and then coming back,” he said.

He worked blue collared jobs like construction and even worked as a meat cutter.

“Those jobs teach you things that college can’t. It really built my work ethic, and also made me feel like I had it really good when I was able to come back to school and work in a clean, air-conditioned, good-smelling studio,” Segal said.

Once Segal took a sculpture class with retired faculty member Enzo Torcoletti, he said he “never went back.” Sculpturing is Segal’s medium of choice, and he specializes in minimalistic style, allowing the character of the material he works with to stand out.

“My art is inspired by the cycles of nature and our attempts, as humans, to manipulate it,” Segal said.

Another one of Segal’s favorite mediums to work with is wood. From his early days in construction, Segal was used to working with lumber and grew fascinated by the story that its natural texture is able to tell.

“The life of trees is something that humans connect to because we have a similar life span. We can all relate to seeing a sapling grow over the years, so we feel close to them,” Segal said.

Photo courtesy of Joe Segal.

Segal aims for his work to show that we as humans are essentially the same as these materials, and that we need to mend the disconnect between man and nature.

“Technology makes it easy to forget about it, but as soon as a hurricane hits and we lose power we become painfully aware of how out of touch we are with nature,” he said.

Segal describes his greatest struggles when creating art in the studio as dealing with the disappointment that comes with transferring a big conceptual idea into a concrete thing.

“Things are bound to go wrong once you start physically working on an idea. If you are really an artist, the flaws will inspire you to do better next time and work harder,” Segal said.

As a way to contrast the isolation of his studio work, Segal also plays the bass for a jazz band called The House Cats that performs around St Augustine, specifically Stogies, where he has played for over 20 years.

“I’ve become a hermit. I find myself only leaving my house for a gig,” Segal said.

If you wish to see Segal’s work before his March show in the Lightner Museum, he currently has pieces on display in the Plum Gallery on Aviles Street. 

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