End of Year Degree Shows, Ulster University, Belfast, 2018 :Karl Hagan

Clampdown, oil on canvas, 2010 x 170cm, earlier version accessed on Hagan’s website

This reproduction subtracts, distorts the dynamics of Hagan’s brush marks, they are like solid  coat of paint, whereas  the surface in real viewing is a gossamer of vapours. Even where it is  divided  by breaking line,  the hue flirts with  air and light to lose optical weight.  Have I seen it before? Yes –  Tintoretto at the Scuola di San Rocco, Goya -he when painting the murals at St Antonio della Florida with a sponge.  The clouds and the sea  swapped places as it may happen in some act of the Earth.  Their force is to tell of the force of nature so neglected by the greed. The final  version arrived late, here it is:

Clampdown, final version, 2018


Hagan dissolves  volumes and outlines to the point of disappearance of the definition of shape.  His surface breathes  almost audibly, spelling out chilling aftermath of an event  we are not allowed to understand.

Fort, 2018, oil on canvas, 35 x 26 cm

Iridescent and two tone pigments tell  in some detail of the heat that swallows the outlines, saving just slabs of darkness  in the composition that is both diagonal and classical.  Claude Lorrain Pastoral Landscape  may have inspired Hagan’s  building blocks.

La Menagerie Interior, 2018, oil on canvas, 210x170cm

The silence of the interior  still partners the large blocks of light and dark, tamed by right angles, straight lines, set of parallels  as if echoing the chair in front.  Also as a force responding to the fragmentation of the left and top part of the image.  I would have expected  unconsolable break in the composition.   Yet, it is holding together both the  description of the observed  and the  unfathomable apparitions.  His painting’s power becomes more obvious, when Hagan tames his imagination to tell a story.

Burden, 2017, oil on canvas, 210 x 170cm

Still, the chilling ambiguity screams  more than one meaning – intelligibly. The paradox of classical calm and baroque riot breaks the painting into two –  taxing the light to unite them. Them?  Two different feelings: one  anchored  in contemplative memory and  the other in something barbaric, an actual scene.  Which circle of hell is this?

Also: Poussin’s Et in Arcadia Ego ( the variant at Louvre) has something to say here.


Images accessed on www. karlhagan.com. The final version of Clampdown (see above) arrived  directly from the painter after I published the essay.


About Slavka Sverakova

writer on art
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