Susan Hagen‘s carved and painted wood sculpture portraits are big personalities in tiny packages. A little over a foot tall, the teenager Olivia, for example, seems a fully-realized young lady. Her smile and stance suggest she is comfortable in her body and friendly, in spite of being a teenager! Hagen, says in this video interview that she is inspired by 15th Century German wood carver Tilman Riemenschneider, whose quiet portrayals of saints and church patrons imply individuals with complex inner lives. Hagen captures a lot of the same naturalness and quietude in her works. Because she works in series or typologies — citizens of Philadelphia, soldiers, prisoners, teenagers — her works remind me in spirit of another German artist of more recent vintage, August Sander, whose portrait photographs of farmers, soldiers, bakers, chefs, created an archive of a time and place (images here).
Like Sander, Hagen is a collector of people, fascinated with their nuances, their similarities and differences. She is always reverent to her subjects, and this is especially visible in her burnt wood statues of American soldiers in the Iraq war (2004-05) and the bleached wood tableaux representing prisoners of Eastern State Penitentiary (2006-07). More recent works, like the Teenager Project (2006-2012) present a lighter touch, although always serious and never rude or quizzical. Hagen’s works are incredibly labor intensive and she is prolific. During the months of June and July, she has double shows open in Philadelphia — one at Schmidt Dean Gallery (show extended through July 13) and one at the Center for Art in Wood (up until July 20). Clearly the artist is smitten by humans and her labors are labors of love.
Susan Hagen: Social Studies, Center for Art in Wood, to July 20, 2013.
Susan Hagen: This is Real/New Work about Life in Philadelphia, through July 13, Schmidt Dean Gallery
Hagen will give an artist talk on July 11, 6pm-7pm, at the Philadelphia Art Alliance.