Michael Kagan, a Virginia Beach native, is a New York based artist whose paintings are heroic explorations of the balance between abstract and representational painting. Space images have opened up new outlets for him to expand size and painting technique, brush work, and abstraction in his most recent works. See his work at michaelkagan.com
(bright piano music)
- [Michael] The VMOCA show it's special because I grew up
in Virginia Beach, and always knew the museum was there
and as my career started to take off a little bit
people would say, "Hey, you should talk to the museum, you
"should do a show at the museum," and I was just like.
I didn't feel like I was ready yet.
(chiming music and rockets blasting off)
So maybe like four years ago, Allison in front of the museum
said, "Hey we want to come by your studio
"next time we're in New York."
They saw my career was starting to get to a point.
They must have done like six, seven studio visits.
Getting to know me, getting to know my process
before they even asked to do a show.
It's a truly special effort when my fist museum show
is in Virginia Beach, but I like that they didn't give me
any special treatment and they made me earn it.
(slow rock music)
My mother was a kindergarten teacher for a long time
and she would always tell her students and she still
would tell us, growing up my sister and I, you know money
wasn't the object of what we should be doing.
You know and that would help kind of guide your career.
So the interest was always there, even in high school.
I took art classes, but then my mother realized
I probably wanted more so she got me private oil
painting lessons after school.
I had a post-graduate fellowship
at New York Academy of Art.
And I was still doing more figurative paintings.
And then afterwards, I had my first real studio
outside the school, so I didn't have any shows lined up.
But I was just like, okay I like to paint
with like squeegees and thick paint
like what do I want to paint, for myself?
And see if I can get it out there in the art world.
So I know a lot about astronauts, the history
from my father from growing up because
he knew a lot of the history, he was into it,
so you know he rushed me into the right stuff.
We looked through telescopes a lot.
We did model rocket launchers, we went to space camp.
So I felt like with the subject matter
I wasn't like, "Oh cool, images of astronauts!"
I knew the history, it felt like very genuine.
It felt like I was worthy or authorized to paint it.
You know? I wasn't faking it.
You know I did one astronaut painting, I did two astronauts.
My dad said he went through them, he's like
"Who the hell's gonna buy paintings of astronauts?"
It was funny.
When I had like a small body of work I got offered
a show, and I had really good sales with good collectors
from that show.
You know I did another show that did well.
I'd done different like segways, I've done some surfing
paintings, I've done some big mountain, like Everest
K2 paintings, but at the core what I think I got
known for was the astronaut paintings.
(ominous sci-fi music)
My technique came naturally, because I like to paint
a lot of paint, and you should always
paint to your strengths.
One of the reasons I like oil paint, it's like
something you can control and you can't control.
You know if someone was just like
I'll give you a million bucks
if you can get the paint just to peel that way
and bubble that way as you pull the squeegee through.
And I could line up a hundred canvases
and never get that again.
Or like this one over here, this is the first time
I've been doing this kind of like washy strokes.
And I wasn't even thinking about it, but I noticed them
as the painting has been drying and I really like it.
So I like that you're always tweaking your technique
with oil painting.
(ominous music fading into electronic music)
You know one of my rules is like whatever's laid
down on the canvas is down, you don't
go back over the next day you just work on the next section.
And that way the paintings stay like super fresh.
You know if I was having like a really bad day
but I was in the studio all day, like that's on the canvas.
Not a bad day painting, but if I was just, you know
whatever life, you know a tough day.
And you're working through that on the painting
and it's all kind of these different sections and pieces
are all kind of working together.
And then yeah something happens.
When the painting's almost done and I look at it
visually I get this kind of like jittery
it kind of like vibrates to me.
I don't know why that happens.
But I feel like that's when you know
painting is working, you get this kind of vibration to it.
You know I'm not sitting there trying
to recreate a photograph and have the photo real.
I'm trying to recreate it with abstract brush marks.
So you know it's about pulling these brush strokes
and overlapping them, in my mind.
So it's interesting beautiful mark making.
But also that it reads, on different levels.
(beautiful humming music)
- I retired from NASA in 2014.
And I saw Michael Kagan on Instagram.
And I'm like man, he's got some really cool paintings.
And so I ended up contacting him
and bought one of his paintings
which was Apollo Rocket Launch.
It was just really beautiful.
And then I went to his studio in New York.
Met him, we connected and I see the space shuttle
something I flew in that he's painting.
And it was the power coming from those brush strokes.
He uses so much paint on the canvas.
And it was just so bold and so beautiful.
The colors were just vibrant.
And it made me think of my launch to space.
There's flame, there's fire, there's smoke
there's this power.
And his artwork conveys that fine line
of power, intensity and then just being on the extreme.
Looking at these explorers, the original seven.
People that walked on the Moon, Neil and Buzz.
And seeing their images will inspire not only
people like myself, but will inspire the next generation.
To say, "How can I be there? How can I do that?"
And so that's why I'm so connected
to him because he helps people feel
and see what I felt and saw.
(upbeat rock music)
- So did everyone see the museum show?
- [All Kids] Yeah.
- Which was your favorite painting?
- The sequence of like the rocket shooting up in the air.
- Two guys sitting in the space ship.
- The one with the rocket, the cockpit one.
- Okay, this is good, that could tell me
what I should focus on in the studio.
- What inspired you to create paintings
about space and science?
- How long does each painting take?
- [Boy Offscreen] Why did you start painting?
- [Michael] I really like talking about my process
and trying to inspire others with what I do.
Cause I know how much I would have enjoyed that.
To hear about someone who's doing
what you might want to do.
- Now the students all made a piece of artwork
inspired by your exhibit.
So they did space-inspired pieces
and then they went about circuits
and made parts of their pieces light up.
Through the process of science and technology, like that.
- You got science, you got technology and engineering.
We add the A into STEM, for the art because creativity
is such a huge part of that.
And I think if we're telling kids that you're either
this way or you're that way, then we miss
a lot of potential designers and engineers
and people that can just be very creative
and bring more solutions to helping us save the planet
or medicine or different things.
And so if you combine them together
I think that you have a complete kid.
We have this really powerful connection.
- Virginia, painting, STEAM, art, music
all these things that really blend in
an individual to be whatever they want to be.
Whatever they dream to be.
It's possible you can do that.
(uplifting violin music)
- You know I never thought I could make
a living just painting, I try not to overthink it.
I just enjoy it.
My wife would come by the studio in the evenings
and she'd be like, "Just enjoy it, just trust the process.
"Trust the universe and like it all works out."
And so that became like a catch phrase with us.
Trust the universe.
(happy violin outro)