Antonio Segui was born in Cordoba, Argentina in 1934. Since 1963 he lives and works in Paris. His house, an old listed building at the Parisian suburb of Arcueil – once belonging to the chemist, biologist and revolutionary Raspail – has now turned into a museum that keeps the artist’s secrets and memories carefully hidden from its visitors. Segui spends nine months of the year there working on his representational painting while the rest of the time he spends in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Rare works of Pre-Colombian and African art coexist in his studio showing his great interest in collecting objects. As the artist himself comments, …in order to retain the memory of things one must have their presence; that’s why I collect objects.
A citizen of the world, Antonio Segui studied at the San Fernando Academy in Madrid and the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris – where he would return in the 80s’ as a professor. He traveled to North Africa, Latin America and extensively throughout Mexico. These places have greatly enhanced his multicultural approach to things as well as the perceptive capturing of the pulse and the aura of contemporary urban culture.
Segui’s work does not lend itself to historical or aesthetic classification. As Edward Lucie-Smith notes in the bilingual luxury edition that accompanies the exhibition, …he is keenly aware of the way in which the supposedly experimental avant-garde has in fact been transformed into a kind of academy, and he is determined not to be caught in this trap. At the same time, he remains keenly aware of what the original Modernists achieved, and is not afraid to incorporate some of their discoveries in his own work.
The artist himself dislikes this kind of labeling and points out the major role luck plays in artistic creation. A study of the elements that make up his work would show us that there is not one, but several stories; a kind of record of contemporary social reality and artistic developments. Already since the mid-60’s Segui wished to express the present, using elements of Pop Art (mainly photography) and ‘Figuration Narrative’ – where elements from the everyday life, autobiography, mythology and sociology are being used – always maintaining though his core subject, the human nature.
The paintings of Antonio Segui undoubtedly form part of the expression of the contemporary urban world. The artist is rightly described as the painter of cities. Especially after 1980, cities in his work appear in series, making up sequels as well as self-contained stories. As Martha Chalikia, the curator of an exhibition at the Fissiras Museum, states …what we have here is a composition of elements, a visual fusion of different images as part of an attempt to create a new landscape in tune with current conditions. In these scenes he builds and dramatizes the modern image of the labyrinth, of multiple directions where everything is relative and seems to be part of a strange game between madness and pain. The element of imagination can be seen in images with a fairy-tale charm which at the same time reveal a clear disappointment as a result of an adult’s critical approach.
A central figure in Segui’s work is Gustavo. This male figure attests to the influence of Argentinean tradition and reflects the exploitations of Buenos Aires’ first inhabitants, the legendary Gauchos. These people, with the identical face-masks, form part of the city; mixing with every dark corner of it, becoming one with its pulses, expressing its turmoil. The artist, in expressing the misery of their existence, realizes that the only way out, the only way to survive, is a sense of humor and self-sarcasm. This is …the only thing that can save us, in life as well as in art, Segui comments. This is a way of thinking, a life attitude based on the timelessness of human parody.