Michael Kagan’s “Lights Out” at Joshua Liner Gallery

Oil-on-linen works that evoke great heights, moments and speed

In each and every one of Michael Kagan‘s oil-on-linen works displayed at Joshua Liner Gallery, human triumph is celebrated. Thick, abstract brushstrokes yield figurative images—sometimes of rapid motion, sometimes of thoughtful serenity—that convey accomplishment.

This is Kagan’s second solo exhibition at the NYC gallery, and it has progressed beyond the stoic astronauts and nuanced cockpits of his previous show (though, those can be seen here, as well). That said, among the Formula One scenes and race cars, there are Everest landscape studies that reflect more achievable feats—while still in line with Kagan’s fascination with nature versus technology. The show, “Lights Out” exists in the emotional states of wonder, appreciation and drive.

“These are still iconic moments,” Kagan explains to CH. “The work captures those moments when people have succeeded or could succeed. The Everest painting takes a smaller, more personal moment. The Mercury astronaut team, that’s a moment when all of mankind was elevated.” Even the subtle moments (and strokes for that matter) carry grandeur and Kagan finds a way to take his inspirations and make them inscriptional for the viewer.

As for the show’s title, Kagan explains, “It can be a positive thing—lights out—in an end-of-day, task-completed way, but it’s also about how what you do now defines you.” Kagan forgoes narrative, a feature to his earlier work, and focuses on visual instances. “I want to portray snapshots,” he says. “All of these ideas are not scenes, but images.” The artist bases his works upon photography, and his NASA-inspired pieces sometimes hail from reference images made accessible to him by The Smithsonian, who commissioned a work last year. Even though most of their images exist in the public archive, Kagan’s time spent deep-diving into the high-res database deepened his understanding of everything from astronaut suits to shuttle cockpits.

“I think the best way to have a style is not to think about it. It’s just to paint and let it evolve naturally,” he notes regarding process. “I almost want to push more toward abstraction, but I’ve found with this show [which was assembled over the last four months] that things tightened up. My brushwork may be getting more abstract but the images themselves have become clearer.” Up close, the lines of thick paint are chaotic and explosive, but stepping back delivers a honed picture. Scale is also important, as the larger works—one of which Kagan had trouble getting out the door of his studio—consume viewers with their message.

“Lights Out” opens tomorrow at Joshua Liner Gallery (540 West 28th St, New York) and will run through 12 March 2016.

Installation image by Cool Hunting, all other images courtesy of Joshua Liner Gallery