A Personal Vision
Wood Carvings from the mid-90s by Susan Hagen
"I work in the area where craft, sculpture, and painting overlap, making carved and polychromed wood sculpture," Susan Hagen says, describing her work.
Hagen grew up in the Midwest and was educated at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and the Cranbrook Academy of Art.
"When I began to approach sculpture seriously around 1980, the field was pretty much wide open," she says. "My generation of art school students got an education primarily in the ideas, rather than the techniques of art, as a result of the conceptual approach of that era. I taught myself to carve wood in the privacy of my studio after finishing graduate school around 1983."
She begins each sculpture with an idea or image "that sticks with me for a while, something I saw, dreamed, read about, or heard that affects me in some inexplicable way. As the idea develops, I start to visualize it."
In preparation, she produces drawings and clay studies. She roughs out the piece with hand saws and power tools. She then uses chisels, gouges, and carving knives as drawing instruments. She does the finish work with rifflers, files, and hand sanding. As a final step, she applies paint and transparent stains to the surface of the wood.
"The level of detail, especially in a small sculpture, is critical," she says. "It must retain some of the freshness of the rough piece but have a level of detail that reveals a deep observation of and feeling for the subject. If the work is too detailed it will appear fussy or trite, and if it is too rough it will be appear inarticulate."
She finds her subject matter in everyday life, in particular, through her direct experience. She sees her work as "my autobiography as a woman in contemporary urban America." She also incorporates here interests in art history, animal behavior, psychology, alchemy, mythology and religion into her work. Many of her subjects are of mythological and allegorical animals. In these pieces, she searches for connections between humans and animals.
Her interest in art history focuses mainly on Medieval European altarpieces, early Renaissance wood sculpture, German expressionist wood sculpture, and American folk and outsider art. "These sculptures inspire me with their articulate forms and pure expressions of emotion," she says.
Susan Hagen has lived in Philadelphia for many years and has a son named Henry. She has exhibited her work in galleries in the USA and Europe, and is currently represented by the Schmidt/Dean Gallery in Philadelphia.
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