To Richard Segalman painting was like breathing. Across his remarkable six-decade career, his artwork was placed in over 40 permanent collections in museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
“My first influence was being surrounded by hats, color and fabric,” he once wrote. “My mother was a milliner. Being in this atmosphere, began my life in art. I saw the work of Degas, Sargent and Sorolla and it was like coming home.”
Segalman died on July 6, 2021, at age 87, of complications from pancreatic cancer. He lived in Woodstock, NY, and Greenwich Village. Until age 85, he had never been in a hospital.
Working in oil, watercolor, pastel and later, monotype, he is best known for capturing the light and beauty of women, clothed in luminous dresses, in the lofts and on the rooftops and stoops of Manhattan, and on the beaches of Naples, Florida, and Coney Island. One of Segalman’s lifelong muses, dear friend and gallerist, Alice Hoffman, said, “Every great painter is a a good draftsman. Richard was an exquisite draftsman. He loved to draw. That, and the light in them really gave his paintings their structure and strength.”
Richard was born in Coney Island, on March 13, 1934, the son of Jeanette Lehman and Louis Freschel. When he and his older brother Ira were still young boys, their father died, their mother struggled, and the boys were sent to live with a series of relatives, and often separated. Their mother remarried when Richard was an adolescent. Reuben Segalman adopted her sons and the family moved to Manhattan. Much of Richard’s teenage years were spent walking the Coney Island beach and city streets, riding the subways, alone, doing what he would do most of his life: watching people, observing everything, and always drawing. “I wanted to be an artist since I can remember. I loved drawing,” he said. “It’s the only thing that ever felt right.”
In the 1950s Segalman graduated from the Parsons School of Design, joined the Army, was honorably discharged after service in Germany, and began his lifelong visits to Naples, Florida, where his aunt and uncle had opened The Anchor Bar, which became a fixture of the community. The very first showing of Richard’s work, charcoal drawings, was in that bar; they sold for $5. Soon after, Rosemary Robinson hosted his first formal show in her Naples gallery. Segalman’s only job ever — apart from his art — was a brief stint as file clerk at the Ford Foundation.
Beginning in the 1960s Segalman’s watercolors and oils were shown by such prominent New York galleries as: the Davis Gallery, the Graham Gallery, Kornbluth Gallery (Fairlawn, NJ) and Katarina Rich Perlow Gallery; as well as The Meyer-Munson Gallery in Santa Fe, NM, and Harmon-Meek Gallery in Naples, Fl. Beginning in 2006, the Marlborough Gallery in New York exhibited his monotypes.
“Richard could do watercolors with his eyes closed — better than [John Singer] Sargent,” his friend and fellow painter, Kate McGloughlin, said. “But monotypes reignited his passion.” Monotypes involve painting on plexiglass or metal plate, then using an etching press to transfer the image to paper. The unpredictable, accident-prone, one-off nature of the monotype intrigued Richard. “It requires more spontaneity, and represents a new loss of control,” he told McGloughlin: “a loss that feels more connected with the limitlessness of the elements.”
The famed New York gallerist Katarina Rich Perlow has long considered Segalman as an American Impressionist: “He painted what he saw in his home with his mother being a milliner,” she recently wrote, “and in the seascapes he was influenced by the artist Turner.”
“His life was a series of New York moments,” said his longtime Woodstock friend Herb Silander. When not painting, he was having breakfast at 7am with the same group of friends for over thirty years, or walking the streets of Greenwich Village, where he constantly found inspiration from people-watching, or visiting shows at galleries and museums with friends. He was an art history teacher to his friends and his muses (and their children). “To be with Richard was to share everything, verbally and visually about art and life and how it works — the magic of light, the beauty in all different kinds of people,” said his model and dear friend of 35 years, Ayesha Ibrahim. He had a bantering sense of humor, and reveled in telling stories, even at his own expense. One he loved was of his entering the basement of the disco Area, where the actress Sylvia Miles, a friend of Richard’s from Woodstock, perched on the side of a small pool filled with gay men, in all her glory, threw open her arms, and announced: “Look everyone, the famous artist — Richard Segalberg!”
Segalman was proud of his Jewish roots and of being a gay man. He missed only two annual Gay Pride Parades in New York since the first was held in 1970. He spent his last weekend there, at Pride events.
On a column in his Woodstock studio were pinned photos of the actress Vivien Leigh, whom he used to follow around Manhattan so frequently she would nod or wave to him (though he could never summon the nerve to speak). He was forever drawn to her beauty and vulnerability, and had an encyclopedic knowledge of the films of her era. He was also “surprisingly well read,” said Alice Hoffman. “For someone so focussed on his art, he read constantly, biographies, poetry, novels.”
Taped near the door of his home in Woodstock is a quote from Henry Miller: “Paint as you like and die happy.”
Richard was preceded in death by his parents and stepfather, his brother Ira, in 2019, and his great niece Kylie Vanderbilt in 2021.
Richard is survived by his sister-in-law, Marilyn Segalman, Melville, NY; his nephew Dr. Joel Segalman and his wife Eileen, Ridgefield, CT, and their three children, Jordan, Richard, and Abby; his niece Linda Katz, of Great Neck, NY; and cousins Sherry Lehman and Susan Freschel. And by the many friends who loved him, and by all the beauty he created.
You may share a special memory or condolence on Richard’s Tribute Wall at gormleyfuneralhome.com, funeral arrangements under the direction of the E. B. Gormley Funeral Home 87 Main St. Phoenicia.
A memorial service for Richard Segalman with be held on Sunday, August 1, 2021, at the Woodstock School of Art (2470 NY-212, Woodstock, NY), in Studio One, where he painted and taught.
Donations may be made in his honor to the Woodstock School of Art and to the Hudson Valley LGBTQ Community Center, Kingston, NY.
– Richard Hoffman