Curate 757

S4 E13 | FULL EPISODE

Michael Kagan

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

AIRED: February 19, 2020 | 0:08:46
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TRANSCRIPT

(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.

- Right.

- 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)

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