I can’t remember exactly how I stumbled across the work of San Francisco based artist Josh Hagler a few months back; I think it was when I was looking for an image to accompany a piece about sloth and greed and our collective disgusting humanity.
I can’t remember exactly how I stumbled across the work of San Francisco based artist Josh Hagler a few months back; I think it was when I was looking for an image to accompany a piece about sloth and greed and our collective disgusting humanity. This one below did the trick nicely. It also looks like all of your parents, which is kind of rude.
“The Same Every Christmas”
After looking around for more of his work, I was instantly pulled into his macabre world. I got in touch with Hagler to talk about his paintings, which have a sort of Francis Bacon meets Ben Templesmith, high art horror comic style. It’s like those moments from a horror film where the demons are disguised as regular people, and then you get a flash of their true nature for a second and you shit yourself when you see what they really look like.
“When the Lights Came On…”
That’s all old work, Hagler told me. In fact he’s got a new two man exhibition (with artist George Pfau) called “Nearly Approaching Never To Pass” that opens up today at the Reeves Gallery in New York City. It’s a collection of paintings, multi-media work and collaborative prints, and like those pieces above, it’s creepy as fuck. Just don’t tell him that’s what you think of it though, because he doesn’t see his work as being particularly scary.
“Return to the Garden”
“Love is All You Need”
SBTVC: “Return to the Garden,” “Soundless Mouth” and “Love is All You Need” seem to be consistent with nightmarish quality I mentioned. Where do you pull that sort of imagery from? Is it a scary place inside your brain or what?
JOSH HAGLER: As far back as I can remember, people have commented on my work as being “dark,” “disturbing,” “nightmarish,” etc. Depending on their subjective tastes they might like or dislike the work for that central reason.
I don’t mean to sound dumb, but, to be honest, I don’t really get what the big deal is. It isn’t something I’m doing intentionally, and I’m certainly not trying to prove something by making work that seems dark to my audience. I’m sure I can’t answer where it comes from. To me it’s not really different than painting flowers in a way. It’s just a way of seeing; it isn’t a result of some dramatic event as far as I know. So I’m not able to answer why the work seems dark to people other than to say that I like dark chocolate, rich food, full-bodied red wine, dark beer, beautifully peculiar women, dense prose, music with heavy beats or lots of reverb, unusual fashion and bad language. These things taste stronger, thoughts of them linger, they grab my attention, they bring me to a state of alertness, they help me find my center, which is very, very kinetic, which is full of buzzing and thrashing about. This is where I’m comfortable, so it’s only natural my art should reflect that…
With the paintings you’re referencing above, the laundry list that comes off the top of my head includes: found photos of landfills, photos I took of plastic toys which I burned with a propane torch, 3D models of mine and my father’s heads, pictures of superheroes, pornography, found photos of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, and probably other things I’m not thinking of right now.
Yes, it is scary inside my brain. But it’s also a shitload of fun. Why doesn’t anyone ever comment on the exuberance of the work? Or the caustic humor? The work acknowledges a basic fear, but it also celebrates it. I find nearly everything to be funny somehow.
I think the collaborative prints you did with Pfau work along the same idea, that horror movie reveal moment.
I can try to understand that, but I don’t feel a connection to the horror genre when I’m making the work. I’m not particularly inspired by or motivated by horror movies, and not particularly interested in the genre. I have lots of friends who love it, but my knowledge of slasher films or material like that is very limited. I can’t quite understand why that should bother me, but it does a little bit. I just don’t see the connection. I mean, I think our world is very dark, but I don’t think horror films obviously resemble our world typically. So why horror movies instead of some aspect of our world not captured in film? I should probably just learn to accept it. I will admit that I made the painting “Evangelist 3″ by referencing some imagery from Lars von Trier’s movie Anti-Christ, which is a horror film I suppose. I did love that one. I also love the Claire Denis movie, Trouble Every Day. Both of those movies have a richness that I don’t see in many other horror flicks.
Where does your approach to the human body come from? Is it from spending so much time training as an artist looking at the human form, that you naturally began wanting to depict it from the inside out, or to defy the logical shape of it?
Well at some point I guess I was interested in learning to depict the body anatomically/academically. That knowledge was important for me to learn and is still essential to the evolution of how I’ve depicted the human form. What I mean to say is that I still use the same logic to make these distorted forms that I used to make more standard or expected forms.
At some point, I think I realized that there was nothing really left to do in figure painting. There’s no particular talent I have in figure painting that is really needed or very original. I’m not a naturally gifted painter, which in some ways I think has worked in my favor. It often seems to turn out that a more gifted painter will peak earlier and settle for an academic approach that never really challenges convention, then repeats until the death of the artist or his/her career. I really had to strive to make my mistakes or my clumsiness work in my favor and I’m always trying to reconsider why and how I use the figure. So where I once had a more… oh, maybe typical or traditional interest in figure painting for the sheer enjoyment of depicting the figure, I’m now more interested in its allegorical potential or in what else it can become other than, strictly-speaking, a physical body.
In “Soundless Mouth,” is that The Watcher from Marvel Comics fucking Spiderman on a pile of trash and meat by the way?
HA! I absolutely love that interpretation and super excited you referenced The Watcher. I don’t want to ruin that dream for you, so I’ll keep it brief: The bottom figure, which carries the likeness of my father, does have a Spiderman costume on. You can decide what that means to you. The top figure, which resembles me with my head shaved, might as well be The Watcher. (Although if he is The Watcher, he ironically watches without eyes, since I was thinking of Oedipus who tore out his eyes after his embarrassing blunder.) And yes, it is a pile of trash and meat. Good eye.
Comic book characters, by the way, come up in my work more often than anyone seems to notice. I’m familiar with three bodies of mythology: Marvel Comics, DC Comics and the Holy Bible. And they’re all pretty good reading.