Q&A: Chris Hagerty

Mall and Explosion, 2010 | Oil on canvas, 30 x 20 inches

Featured in edition #86 of New American Paintings, Chris Hagerty reveals an intense duality in each work he creates: unyielding and radiant color and the earth-toned, inescapable terror of war scenes from Iraq and Afghanistan. At odds in both palette and subject matter, Hagerty's paintings are as intense as they are eerily humorous. We caught up with the Brooklyn-based artist this week to catch up and talk about his work.  —Evan J. Garza

EJG: In your work you conflate war scenes with shopping mall architectural layouts. How did you arrive at this combination?
I started making paintings of shopping mall architecture as a type of meditative response to the shared environment that people place themselves in. The commercial interiors are an environment that I 'keyed up' to a type of unreal space, much like landscape paintings of the past based on actual locations could become fantastic and unrealistic through the depiction by the artist. The photographs of war began to appear just like another field of color in the environment. The synthesis of these photos with those of the shopping mall images felt like a natural combination of two related elements. The war in Iraq and Afghanistan is figuratively in the background of our minds as Americans while it is literally in the background of the paintings.

Garden Of Babylon (double JDAM), 2010 | Oil on canvas, 12 x 16 inches

EJG: What's going on in your studio? Tell me about your new work.
I’m beginning to work on painted environments depicting the Garden of Babylon. Originally I wanted to use it as a bridge between the ‘architecture of plenty’ of the malls and the Middle East shown in all the war images. Of course it has taken on it's own direction that I am constantly learning from. I’ve been painting images of date palms, poppies, and other plants as I’m slowly assembling the contents of the garden and combining them with yet more photographs I stumble across.

EJG: You have a video installation up in a show right now in New Mexico. How long have you been working in video/installation and how do you find it relates to your paintings?
I don't really see the paintings or the digital imaging/video as separate practices. Being computer literate and coming from a digitized generation, it seemed logical to use these to help me create perspective drawings and models of spaces to use in my painting. Just like plan-drawings and sketches, digital images can be spun off to inform multiple projects that I can work on later. After I create a digital model of an object or a place, it feels natural to turn it into a moving image that can communicate the same things that the paintings do, only presented through a different medium.

Atlantic Center Mall & Wreck, 2008 | Oil on canvas, 30 x 45 inches

EJG: The colors of the mall scenes are abnormally bright and neon. Tell me about how you use your palette.
Typically, I do a lot of planning with color combinations for the ‘bright’ parts of my paintings. My end goal is to find the right type of dissonance that will hold the viewer's attention.  It takes a lot of trial and error with various pigments to find their maximum saturation. I suppose, at the base level, I create these color contrasts out of a desire to alter the actual environments that we inhabit—as if the painted image could act as a totem against reality.

EJG: If we didn't know they were mall interiors, one would immediately think they were geometric abstractions. Is your interest in these interiors for their physical qualities?
As much as I enjoy painting nice sheets of flat, hard edge color, I would have to say I’m attracted to architectural spaces primarily for their spiritual or mental qualities (or lack thereof) over their purely physical attributes. I feel that geometric abstraction is a response to the modern manufactured environment among other things. Since I’m representing a touchstone of manufactured environments (shopping malls, hotels, etc.), the similarities are easy to see. Ultimately my priority is to communicate about my relationship with the spaces and the images that surround me.

Crashed Apache & Poppies, 2010 | Oil on canvas, 20 x 30 inches

Chris Hagerty will be featured in a forthcoming group show organized by the Joan Mitchell Foundation at the International Studio & Curatorial Program this December in Brooklyn, where the artist also lives and works. His of paintings at the Foundry Art Center in St. Charles, Missouri from April 29 - June 10.


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