Seeing, Searching, Being: William Segal is actually three films by Ken Burns about influential artist William Segal. Segal (1904-2000), known not only for his painting but also as a philosopher and writer, died at the age of 96. Ten years before he died, he met Ken Burns, they became friends, and they collaborated. The result was this trilogy of short films.
“Part One: William Segal,” filmed in the artist’s studio and garden, features Segal painting and expounding on the nature of the relationship between art and the artist. He explains the role of the painter and discusses creative processes. Cinematography in the garden is painting-like. Beautiful long shots show us the artist at work surrounded by trees and greenery. Many of Segal’s still life works are showcased as Segal talks about such aspects of painting as luminosity. We see the artist sketching scallions and lemons, but the artistry of the filmmaker is as much on display.
“Part Two: Vézelay” details “search.” Burns and Segal visit the incredible basilica at Vézelay, France. Segal is in search of self—who am I? What am I? Where do I fit in? He discusses the holiness of churches and temples, even those that may be considered “humble.” Again, we see one breathtaking shot after another of this splendid place. The basilica is huge and impressive. Segal talks about change and the reality of “I.” His philosophical ideation reaches into the sharing people do with each other, and the rituals we perform as part of everyday life. A mass underscores his words. Ken Burns took full advantage of the soft lighting in the basilica to produce unforgettable images.
“Part Three: In the Marketplace” is scenes of Segal’s daily life on the streets of Paris. Segal explains that he lives in the moment and details the practices he employs to achieve that ideal. In this episode, we see Segal again working in his studio and preparing for both a book and gallery exhibition of his lithographs. The vibrancy and vitality of Segal is inspiring.
In Seeing, Searching, Being: William Segal, the viewer meets a deeply spiritual man who happens to be an artist. His thoughts are so outwardly directed, they touch our own musings on the meaning of life, particularly our own. So many artists are self-absorbed, wrapped up in themselves and the image they want to project. It is refreshing to listen to Segal talk about ideas, social theories, and beliefs.
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