Michael Kagan

American artist Michael Kagan paints compelling snapshots of contemporary heroes and the archetypal moments they inhabit.

Kagan is fascinated by the limits of human potential. His paintings of surfers, race car drivers and, most prominently, astronauts have captured the attention of high-profile collectors including Yusaku Maezawa and Nike CEO Mark Parker. Combining oil on linen with screenprint and photographic layers, Kagan’s work oscillates between extreme close ups realised in jagged, semi-abstract marks and wider, cinematic scenes often staged at the brink of disaster.

  • I was There When It Happened, solo show at The Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Virginia, 2019-2020
  • Lights Out, solo show at the Joshua Liner Gallery, New York, 2016
  • Winner of Best Art Vinyl for White Lies’ album, Big TV, 2013
  • Special edition clothes line in collaboration with Pharrell and Billionaire Boys Club, 2013
  • Work in collections including Fidelity Investments Corporate Contemporary Art Collection, Los Angeles, Leland Melvin, NASA Astronaut, Lynchburg, Rus Yusupov Collection, New York, Yusaku Maezawa Collection, Tokyo

With a palette of blue, black and white punctuated with flashes of red, the artist’s signature brush strokes are sharp and angular — resembling elongated pixels. The energy of the assertive mark-making echoes the dedication with which his subjects pursue their lifelong vocations.

"I think that's when a painting is perfect; when it can fall apart and when it can come back together”
"My paintings are all about moments. It's almost like a performance piece that ended up on a painting"

In contrast to the religious iconography of art history Kagan creates his own iconography — one of science. 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. Astronaut Jim Irwin, a crew member on the fourth successful lunar mission, is shown saluting the American flag.

Apollo 15 by Michael Kagan
Apollo 15, Michael Kagan, 2015. Courtesy of the artist.

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 representation of realised dreams, Irwin is elevated from human to icon, an angel of science revering the limitless possibilities of technology.


Mavericks by Michael Kagan
Mavericks 5, Michael Kagan, 2018. Courtesy of the artist.
Boom Shakalaka by Michael Kagan
Boom Shakalaka 3, Michael Kagan, 2018. Courtesy of the artist.

In Kagan’s work, fleeting moments are frozen into paint. Mavericks, for example, is a collection of small paintings from 2018 where surfers are engulfed in towering ocean waves expressed through forceful surges of blue and white oil paint lathered across the surface. Similarly, Boom Shakalaka (2018) overlays a sequence of images from a rocket launch with swathes of orange and red abstraction depicting flames. By obscuring these dramatic moments with thick impasto marks, Kagan finds stillness within chaos. Fluctuating between visions of grandeur and knife-edge snapshots, Kagan distils archetypal moments into bold and captivating tributes to the modern hero.

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