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From the Midwest to Miami: The Artistic Journey of Tom Seghi

From the Midwest to Miami:  The Artistic Journey of Tom Seghi

 

Untitled (Green pear on black), 2007. 20 x 24 inches. Acrylic on canvas.

 

Driving through miles of open fields from his hometown of Chicago to DeKalb, Illinois, Tom Seghi was mesmerized by the stark beauty and rich tones of the landscape before him.  The first in his family to attend college, Seghi was on his way to Northern Illinois University (NIU), where he would discover his passion for translating the Midwestern landscape onto canvas.  Originally intending to study architecture, Seghi changed his career path to become an art educator and painter.

 

November Series (Missouri landscape), 1987. 54 x 45 inches. Acrylic on canvas.

 

During his graduate studies at the Art Institute (AIC), Seghi earned a reputation as an artist to watch.  Landscapes and a fascination with clouds and the horizon absorbed Seghi.  Settling in Missouri to raise a family, he continued to paint while he taught art at local universities including Washington University in St. Louis, Webster College and Southern Illinois University.  During that time, he painted large landscapes of the bottom lands by the Mississippi River and the patchwork quilt of farm tracts in the Midwest.

Perhaps it was the serendipitous purchase of a second-hand sailboat that propelled Seghi’s journey from the Midwest to Miami.  Feeling ready for a change from the land-locked heartland, especially as his early attempts at sailing involved endless tacking back and forth on the muddy Mississippi River, Seghi moved to Miami to launch his sailboat in open turquoise waters and to advance his art career.

During the late 1980s, the South Florida Art Center (now known as ArtCenter/South Florida) raised funds to purchase three properties on Lincoln Road in Miami Beach.  Led by the prescient Ellie Schneiderman, the South Florida Art Center was organized to address visual artists’ workspace and community needs.  In the spring of 1984, with Community Development Block Grant funds from the City of Miami Beach, artists took up residence in 21 storefronts on a nearly abandoned and dilapidated Lincoln Road.  Due to the drug wars and random violence that afflicted Miami in the early 1980s, formerly fashionable Lincoln Road was a blight of empty shops that were ripe for rebirth as artist studios.  The Art Center established a juried resident artist program and Seghi was selected for the inaugural group.

During his first five years in Miami, Seghi’s work changed dramatically.  Although landscape painting continued to be his primary interest, South Florida’s sensuous tropical environment and spellbinding waterways and oceans transformed his palette and his painting.  Describing this change, he wrote:

I was swept away by the extraordinarily intense light and color of this new space and climate, and I immediately began painting large seascapes with soft pastel blends of color that I had never experienced before.  I found the environment absolutely intoxicating and endlessly inspiring.

Shortly thereafter, the background shifted into whimsical and abstract imagery, then into complete abstraction.  Working from his studio on Lincoln Road, sailboats, automatic writing, arrows and geometrical shapes entered Seghi’s drawings and paintings.

 

Untitled (Miami seascape), 1989. 50 x 32 inches. Acrylic on canvas.

 

 

Implosion/Explosion, 1989. 70 x 48 inches. Acrylic/canvas/collage

 

 

Biscayne Bay Revisited, 1989, 48 x 40 inches. Acrylic/canvas/collage

 

Writing about Seghi’s early work in Miami, Sherrye Cohn of the St. Louis Post Dispatch  noted:

Before his move to Miami, Seghi created large, straightforward, prairie-like landscapes that sat, empty of incident, under big Midwestern skies, much like the land where he grew up in Illinois.  Seghi now paints what might loosely be called seascapes, yet with their new spatial complexities and art historical references, break with preconceivednotions of the genre.

His pictures are wittily replete with Floridian clichés – palm trees, moisture-laden clouds, fiery sunsets – and language plays a key role.  Anywhere within the frame we might encounter such droll admonitions as “Play!Play!” or “Shape of things to come.”  What makes the change in Seghi’s art so delightful and his pictures so enchanting is the dramatic new openness to possibility and the endearing mix of humor and intellectuality.

— Miami Art Scene Is a Study in Complexities, Contrasts, March 1990

Gradually, shapes emerged in the abstract spaces of Seghi’s seascapes.  By the mid-90’s, those shapes became recognizable vegetables and then fruit.  Engrossed in these food subjects, Seghi sensed the unlimited possibilities in painting larger than life objects.

Change occurred both consciously and unconsciously, to the point where my landscape motif became nonexistent, except in spirit.  My paintings became truly automatic as if they were painting themselves.  I became temporarily suspended, like a witness to the event of painting, just as a father can only watch the birthing process of a child.  In my case, the birth of my current fruit/still life came into being. Each new painting of an apple or pear stirs up new challenges that I see no way out of except to do another and another.

 

Untitled (Red Apple), 2001 Size: 40 x 48 inches. Acrylic on canvas.

 

 

Untitled (Three Pears), 2007. 40 x 30 inches. Acrylic on canvas.

 

 

Tom Seghi Exhibition. Kelley Roy Gallery, Miami, FL, May 2010. Photo: Laya Firestone Seghi.

 

 

Of Seghi’s fruit paintings, art critic Joan Altabe wrote, “All restlessness or stirred-up feelings fade before the faultless symmetry of Tom Seghi’s pears and apples:

Static, calm, solemn, simple – the stuff of monuments in the tradition of old Rome and Greece – is the core of his fruit paintings.  He paints like the Romans, who were known for their still-life paintings, particularly their ability to capture fruit’s form.

. . . Probing, poring over a few pieces of fruit with an almost-ritualistic concentration, focusing hard on undistorted form, on clarity of light, on subordination of detail, on strict sense of balance, Seghi profiles fruit in categorically classical fashion.

Sarasota Herald-Tribune, February 1996

Writing of the purchase of three Seghi fruit paintings for the Art Collection of the Avon Lake Public Library, the curator noted:

All three paintings suggest the rich, sensual feeling of the great Dutch still lifes, but also adhere to the precepts of modernism by stripping the image of baroque clutter.  The black backgrounds provide a sharp contrast to colors which have been called ‘luscious, organic, succulent, and erotic.

 

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On a visit to his hometown of Chicago for a family wedding in July 2011, Seghi died after suffering a massive heart attack.  Tom Seghi’s immediate survivors include his widow Laya Firestone Seghi, a psychotherapist in private practice in Hollywood, FL; daughter Anniel (Danny Nagler) and twin sons Daniel and Gabriel (Lea) and six granddaughters, all living in Florida.  For more information about Tom Seghi’s work see:  www.seghi.com

 

Tom Seghi. Millenium Park, Chicago, 2010. Photo: Laya Firestone Seghi