Logan Maxwell Hagege: Dreams From a Big City
Logan Maxwell Hagege crosses the country for a new show at Gerald Peters Gallery in New York City.
It’s hard to imagine today, but New York City was once the cultural hub for Western art. Consider this pedigree: William R. Leigh had a studio in New York City, Frederic Remington’s studio was outside the city in New Rochelle, Frank Tenney Johnson and Ernest L. Blumenschein both studied at the Art Students League on 57th Street, Olaf Wieghorst was a mounted policeman in Manhattan where his beat included the Central Park bridle paths, Albert Bierstadt maintained a studio in the famous Tenth Street Studio Building before and after his famous trips West, and even Charles M. Russell, known for his authentic representation of cowboys far removed from large cities, ventured to the city to sell his work at the turn of the last century. And that’s just artists; not museums, galleries and dealers.
As new forms of art emerged—the 1913 Armory Show, modernism, cubism, abstraction… not a cowboy in sight—new York City slowly opened itself up to a wider variety of artwork. In response, Western art drifted west to places such as Oklahoma, Colorado, Wyoming, Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Scottsdale, Arizona. Although many galleries and artists have done very well there for decades, today the city is an elusive destination for many Western artists, which is not entirely surprising given the differences—sagebrush and saguaros versus subways and skyscrapers.
Logan Maxwell Hagege hopes to change that. On May 11, the California painter will bring his Western work to Gerald Peters Gallery in Manhattan, mere minutes away from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The show, titled Where Land Meets Sky, will not only be Hagege’s first exhibition in the east—a major one at that—it will also mark the artist’s personal development as a Western artist, and also more broadly as a contemporary American artist.
“When Gerald Peters Gallery suggested a show, they first offered their Santa Fe gallery. I was the one who actually proposed having it in New York. Santa Fe would have been great, I love to show there, but I’ve wanted a New York show for a while,” Hagege says from his Los Angeles-area studio. “I wanted to get my work outside this tight little region that I’ve been showing in.” He wanted to go east, back to where many early American artists would regroup, create, show and sell their work. He wanted to go to America’s city, New York City.
Hagege is a formidable force in Western art. His works are in numerous museum collections and he’s been honored with awards at many of the top museum exhibitions, not to mention soldout shows and new works that are scooped up before they can even make it to gallery walls. To put it into better perspective, consider this small detail: at the most recent Masters of the American West exhibition at the Autry Museum of the American West, Hagege’s works occupied the first wall inside the gallery space, a space that has historically been the home to new works by Howard Terpning, who has since retired from museum shows. For Hagege, these honors, accolades and consistent sales—also thoughtful, magnificently composed, masterfully colored paintings that evoke the loneliness and sacredness of the desert—have established him as one of the preeminent voices within the world of Western art.
The only place left for him to go is up and out, beyond the bubble of Western art itself.
“I don’t see myself as strictly a ‘Western artist.’ That term sort of bothers me because it puts my work into a box. I see my work as more regional if anything else,” he says. “And really, what it comes down to is that I never really thought of my work fitting into any market. I never painted with that goal.”
The painter points to artists who came before him, people like Remington and members of the Taos Society of Artists. “They were regionalist transplants who were creating things and bringing them back to the big cities. It was distinctly American art that just so happened to feature the American West,” he says. “If we can strip the title off the work then more people can see it, and they can see it for what it is. When people think of the West they think of cowboys and Native Americans, and these are the most American of icons, and yet we want to box it up and pull it away from the rest of American art.”
He points to an artist like Los Angeles-based painter Jonas Wood, a contemporary painter who depicts figures, interior spaces and still lifes using bold and vivid colors in an almost David Hockney-esque manner. Western collectors are unfamiliar with Wood, and Wood collectors are unfamiliar with Western artists. If one side doesn’t give a little, there will be a constant barrier between them, walling off artists, collectors, galleries and even subject matter.
What Hagege is suggesting isn’t necessarily a radical departure away from Western art, but rather a paradigm shift, one that allows Western art to be considered within a larger context, one that has the potential to bring in new collectors and—since Hagege is still only 38 years old— younger collectors. What better place to do this than in New York City, thousands of miles away from all the other top Western destinations?
He says he’s not nervous about his New York debut—“i’m not nervous because I don’t equate sales with success,” he says—but he is ready to shift his own attitude about New York collectors. “I was told they like to think about things and come back to the gallery after the artwork has set in their minds for a couple days, rather than just buying because they may miss out on a piece. I’m OK with that,” the artist says. “It’s just further proof that the art crowd in New York is just a different thing altogether.”
For the work itself, Hagege is bringing some very unique pieces to the Gerald Peters show, including several close-up portraits of one of his favorite subjects, Apache actor and model Chesley Wilson, a frequent character in many of Hagege’s works. Other works include Headed Skyward, a floral still life in front of clouds and mountains that feel like vignettes from a longlost Georgia O’keeffe painting, and Tom Mix, which shows a Tom Mix-style hat on a wooden fencepost amid a desert scene. The painting perfectly clarifies Hagege’s favorite motif: flat elements with three-dimensional depth. “Some aspects of Tom Mix are very rendered compared to elements of the background or foreground. In some ways it’s an illusion, because the elements are so flat that they shouldn’t have depth to them, but they do,” he says. “The trick I sometimes use is to paint something—like the sagebrush in the foreground here, for instance— with a minimal amount of detail and the eye just fills in the rest. Even with bare elements, you can start pushing objects in the the painting back and forth, and your eye will always work it out and go beyond that.”
In Rio Grande, he paints a single figure, his blanket-wrapped body creating a slight halo effect against the blue sky. The figure, with that exquisitely colored blanket, returns in The Rain Falls, The Sun Shines, a classic Hagege image of two figures on horseback and framed by clouds that seem to mushroom out of purple hills in the distance. “This one was pretty true to the scene I saw in Taos. I remember just trying to make sense of the chaos that you find in nature. It’s so busy and has so much detail, with a zillion different things going on,” he says. “The challenge is to simplify it just enough.”
Hagege, a student of Western history, is thrilled to be showing in a city long known for its arts and arts culture. “Historically, this place resonates with me a lot, from Remington to [Charles] Schreyvogel to the Salmagundi Club to the great salon shows,” he says. “It’s exciting to bring some work out east and show it. I’m also excited it’s going to be an event, something bigger than just art on a wall—just doing my part bringing some Western art out that direction.”
Let the New York Western Renaissance begin.
Opposite page: Tom Mix (detail), oil on linen, 31 x 22” Above: The Rain Falls, The Sun Shines, oil on linen, 32 x 43”
Headed Skyward, oil on linen, 24 x 16”
Rio Grande, oil on linen, 31 x 22”
Portrait – Mid Day, oil, 12 x 9”