Friday, January 18, 2013

Elsie Kagan’s Studio Visit by Melissa Staiger

Second Sleep” acrylic and oil on canvas, 60” x 60”, 2012

Elsie’s energetic mark making and almost undoing of images with paint strokes and overlapping depictions make me question memory, time and location.  I was struck by the composition of “Second Sleep”.  It uses the white of the painting that divides the composition into almost three sections.  The very dark night painting and contrast of the raw white canvas leads your eye to contemplate the reason for such a strong gesture.

Than Elsie told me what the title meant…

Back in the day, when Europeans were in rhythm with the cycles of the sun and the moon, they used to go to bed when the sun went down.  When winter rolled around going to bed meant they would go to bed at 5 or 6pm when it got dark.  Their pituitary gland that regulates sleep would wake them up in the middle of the night because the body had rested. So around midnight or 1PM they would wake up get some work done and then go back to sleep until the sun came up.  They called this second sleep.

We talked about having children and how parents find themselves awake at weird hours doing things similar to second sleep.  Kagan also let me know about a class she took at Creative Capital called “Strategic Planning for Artists” were she was given the idea of scheduling paintings to get more work done.  Having two children and being a full time artist, this concept proved brilliant in Kagan’s studio.  She was preparing for a solo show and had several square and rectangular paintings to show me.

Her style of painting uses space and overlapping images and loose brush strokes, which give many entrances and exits in the painting.  I found myself on a journey in her work by wondering in the subtleties and transitions from one color or from a smooth line to a more jagged line to having a feeling of seeing a dog morph from one dog to a different dog.

When she was nine years old she lived in the Netherlands and visited the Mauritshuis Collection, where she was enchanted by tiny oil sketches by Franz Hals.  Kagan comments, “His big paintings are weird and mannered but his loose small ones I found absolutely magical.  There was one of a boy smiling, and one of a little sparrow.  I realize that part of the appeal might have been that they were hung lower on the wall panels (at eye level for a little girl).”  The Franz Hals paintings had such an impact on Kagan that the idea of the loose line is seen in her paintings today.

Loud barks were heard during the visit as there is a security guard dog kennel behind her studio.  Many dogs are in her recent paintings, subconsciously from hearing the noises they make and from taking her children to the park and seeing many different kinds of dogs.  Animals are a theme in her work as Kagan once lived near horses and she painted a series of paintings where they appeared.  Horses and dogs both have super senses that humans don’t have to the same extent, like smell, sight and a range of emotional intelligence. As an artist Kagan has this special other sense in her paintings. Go and see this magic in person for her one-person show at 129 Rivington in Manhattan on January 11th 2013.