His passion is his work

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By Mark Scohier, Staff writer

It's safe to say the decor at Mike Segal's Chiefland home is not typical for the area. Throughout his house, the walls are covered with groups of brightly colored paintings or stacks of rolled up drawings.

In one area, the floor is so spattered with flecks of paint that only grooves between the boards offer proof of its true wooden nature.

The layout is different, too. In many homes, the flow of the main living space centers on a television set, but in Segal's home, things seem to flow around the large wooden easel that displays his most current work.

"There's only one correct place for an artist to be," Segal said, "and that's in the studio."

Segal, along with his wife Marvi, has lived and worked out of his Chiefland home for about 15 years. He said it helps him stay committed to his craft and sole means of support: painting.

"We make a living because we've been doing it for 40 years," he said.

According to Segal, half of his family's income comes from selling his original art; the other half from selling the prints that his wife makes of the original pieces.

Segal got his start in art when he was a boy, but he said it wasn't until college that he really began to develop as an artist. Segal graduated from North Carolina State University in 1976 with a degree in environmental design and landscape architecture.

He said by studying design, instead of fine art, the focus of his paintings became more about successful communication with people. Too many times, he insisted, people trained in the fine arts lose the ability to communicate with the viewer. Their egos obscure the message, he said.

And it's unfortunate, Segal added, because untrained artists are producing much of the great contemporary American art. A true American vernacular, he said, will come from the hands of rural artists.

"Nobody's going to say 'oh yeah' until 100 years from now." Right now, he said, "Everything's about New York City." "I'm trying to get people here to overcome their inferiority complex."

Segal's effort to educate the public about art has brought him into the classrooms and homes of thousands of children over the years.

Most recently, he taught a group of students in Yankeetown as part of the Florida Artists in the Schools Program. He said he's never failed at teaching a child to draw.

Part of his success in teaching, he said, comes from his method of coaching.

He doesn't get the beginners to try drawing recognizable objects. Instead, he prefers to hand them amoeba-shaped cardboard models to draw.

His theory: Children don't immediately get discouraged because they're less likely to see the imperfections in their work. So, they keep drawing it again and again, and as a result, become better at drawing.

Segal takes a similar approach to his own art. He said a single painting is often the result of dozens of sketches; each changing slightly in composition or color. His paintings usually focus on rural scenes, but he says about 10 percent of his work reflects his faith as a Jew.

Segal said his only obstacles in life tend to be financial. But the recent decline in the American economy hasn't hurt his sales any. He said the relatively moderate price of his paintings seems to be stimulating their sales.

"Collectors want to collect," he said.

When asked about his future plans, Segal said, "I want to paint until I drop dead and my last brush stroke caresses the canvas as I fall to the floor."

Anyone interested in Mike Segal's art can see his work on display at Island Arts in Cedar Key or visit his website at www.MikeSegalArt.com. His next sidewalk show will be on June 21 and 22 at the Cedar Key Park.