Michael Kagan


Images courtesy of the artist

In conversation with New York-based artist Michael Kagan, who shares an eclectic artistic activity.

His dramatic paintings depict humans pushing the limits of nature through physical stamina and technology.



BP I’m interested in how technology can alter art, or sports, or human progress in some significant way. So, if you think about the Impressionists, we couldn’t really have plein air painting until the advent of tubed paint. I feel like many of your subjects are bound by similar constraints. Without certain technological breakthroughs, the feats they accomplish might not be possible. You can’t surf a 100 foot wave if you don’t have a jet ski to tow in.

MK With every subject, there is a kind of ironic moment that translates into what I’m painting. With the astronauts, particularly the Mercury program it was rocket propulsion basically putting a capsule on top of a missile and sending man to space, …. that led to the next phase of the project…. the Gemini program. Then with Gemini, it was all a dress rehearsal for how to get to the moon. They had this punch list of requirements whether it be EVA (extravehicular activity) how to be tethered in space and not just float away or how to dock with the capsule and the lunar lander… each a critical part of getting to the moon. So, to get these boxes checked, each Gemini launch had to go up get it done before moving on. And then with these mountain and death zone paintings I’ve made, what got these people up to the summit? Oxygen. Climbing with oxygen. Oxygen in a can is the same thing as putting paint in a tube. And then with big wave surfing, there’s an interview with Laird Hamilton where he’s saying they were just experimenting out in the water with the zodiacs and then they were like, this is dangerous with the propeller in the water. OK…jet ski! Minds blown. With these waves they used to just stare at, they can now ride. With oxygen, mountains they used to die trying to climb, they can now climb.

“It would be boring if we weren’t always pushing it to the next level of what’s possibile.”

– Michael Kagan

In the Beginning, 2016.

BP What about with race car driving? Do we see advances in that arena?

MK Those are some of the most high-tech machines on the planet, other than rockets going to space. These cars are practically rockets.The amount of team effort that goes into a race… the pit crew is basically like mission control.

BP I remember seeing the “Senna” documentary and often it was just the driver with the latest technology who won the Grand Prix.

MK Yeah, I think back then it was more of a combo with skill. But now with F1, the money these guys pour into their machines is insane. I was in Montana with a group of engineers on a genius retreat and they were talking about a type of propulsion using sonic energy or antimatter to get to Mars and beyond. These guys aren’t just writing on a napkin saying it’ll be cool if this happens one day, these guys are actually creating these next moments that are going to get us there. Some of them had ideas on how to grow plants on space ships so they could eat and farm, another designer already launched thousands of packets of seeds into the universe with  solar sails.


Read the full interview on Muse February Issue 59.

Godspeed, 2021.




In conversation with New York-based artist Emma Stern who skillfully combines oil painting with 3D software creating futuristic large-scale works.