Michael Kagan

Impasto tributes to contemporary heroes at the limits of human endeavour.

Michael Kagan seated at a table in his studio looking into the distance
artist concentrating on painting which he has applied blue masking tape to and started filling in with paint in the centre
michael kagan stood in his studio
5 images

Michael Kagan was born in 1980 in Virginia, USA, and now lives and works in Brooklyn. He received his MFA from the New York Academy of Art in 2005.

Collections

Notable collectors of his work include Yusaku Maezawa and Nike CEO Mark Parker, as well as Pharrell Williams, who he collaborated with in 2013 to create a special edition ready-to-wear collection.

Did you know?

Kagan cites seminal British painter Jenny Saville, who he studied under at graduate school, as the source of an enduring focus on mark-making within his canvases.

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Practice overview

Michael Kagan is an artist and space enthusiast fascinated by the limits of human potential. His mesmerising paintings depict surfers, race car drivers, and, most prominently, astronauts with oil on linen, screen-printing, and over-painted photographic prints. In both form and content, the compositions oscillate between extremes: up-close jagged abstract mark-making is revealed, while further away the brushstrokes tighten into representational scenes at the cusp of potential and fatal disaster. With a bold palette of blues, blacks, whites and dashes of red, Kagan’s signature brushstroke is sharp and angular, resembling an elongated pixel. These committed, gestural marks echo the strength and dedication that his subjects devote to their vocations.

Notions of ‘the hero’ form a modern iconography in Kagan’s work. At almost eight metres wide and two metres high, Apollo 15 (2015) is the artist’s largest painting to date. The work has a mural-esque grandeur that meets the historic weight of its subject: humankind on the moon. The work depicts the fourth successful lunar mission with astronaut Jim Irwin saluting the American flag. Exhibited at the Hughes Aircraft Factory in California, one of the first places to manufacture spacecrafts, the painting crystallises a grand history of technology, national pride and human endeavour. A symbol of realised dreams, Irwin transcends from human to icon: an angel of science and symbol of limitless possibility. Fluctuating between a grand vision and a flash moment, Kagan’s paintings freeze archetypal moments of extremity, stretching them out into bold and captivating works.

"My paintings are all about moments. It's almost like a performance piece that ended up on a painting." Michael Kagan