Space enthusiast and painter, Michael Kagan extrapolates iconic snapshots of history that unravel abstraction and representation into heroic contemporary portraits.
Kagan is fascinated by the limits of human potential. His mesmerising paintings depict surfers, race car drivers, and, most prominently, iconic histories of space travel. The works oscillate between extremes in their form and content: up-close they fall into abstraction but farther away they tighten into overt and familiar representations that retell exceptional moments at the cusp of possibility and fatal consequence.
- Work in collection inc. Fidelity Investments Corporate Contemporary Art Collection, Los Angeles, Leland Melvin, NASA Astronaut, Lynchburg, Rus Yusupov Collection, New York, Yusaku Maezawa Collection, Tokyo
- Solo show, I was There When It Happened, at The Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Virginia, 2019-2020
- Solo show, Lights Out, 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
With a palette of blues, blacks whites and dashes of red, Kagan’s signature brushstroke is sharp and angular, resembling elongated pixels or a strong, committed mark evocative of the unrelenting dedication that his subjects have to their own vocations. Working with oil on linen, as well as exploring screen printing and painting onto photographic prints, Kagan’s work has captured the attention of high profile collectors including Yusaku Maezawa and Nike CEO, Mark Parker, as well as collaborations with Pharrell Williams.
Notions of ‘The Hero’ form a modern iconography in Kagan’s work. At almost eight metres wide and two metres high, Apollo 15 is the artist’s largest painting to date and the work has a mural-esque grandeur that meets the historic weight of its subject: humankind on the moon. A depiction of the fourth successful lunar mission, astronaut, Jim Irwin, salutes the American flag surrounded by the space station, a rocky landscape and an ominous black sky. Exhibited at the Hughes Aircraft Factory in California — where spacecrafts were built to explore the moon’s surface before the first human landings — 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 shrouded with the honour of limitless possibility.
Fluctuating between a grand vision and a cursory snapshot, Kagan’s work both slows and accelerates moments in time. Mavericks is a collection of small paintings from 2018 depicting surfers engulfed in towering ocean waves. While forceful surges of blue and white oil paint lather the surface with hasty dynamism, their static nature offers stillness among the chaos. Works such as Boom Shakalaka 3 and Kagan’s series of postcard paintings all depict rocket launches that have a hazy abstraction obscuring the subject of the image. Hidden under swathes of orange and red, the rocket emerges and a split second is memorialised into a grand symbol of eternal ambition. Thus, Kagan’s unapologetic impasto collapses into each firm stroke. Slowly deconstructing and reassembling themselves, Kagan’s paintings freeze archetypal moments of extremity, stretching them out into bold and captivating works.
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