The beauty of a Carol Hagan painting cannot be quantified, but rather its allure rests in the richness of vivid color and thick texture, and in the visual honesty her artwork offers.
When Hagan paints, the eyes of her subject are the first to immerge—bright, vivid, and the gateway to understanding Hagan’s work. Through these expressive eyes, Hagan communicates the virtue and integrity of her animal subjects, most of which she’s photographed before beginning to paint.
Hagan begins her work by building a relationship with the animal, photographing it, and working from these photographs to capture the essence of their interaction. Such a process makes Hagan’s animal subjects spring from the canvas, their personality further heightened through her use of color.
I’ve always worked with as many colors as I could get my hands on. Carol Hagan
“Color is intoxicating to work with,” Hagan said. “I’ve always worked with as many colors as I could get my hands on.”
Hagan, a self-taught artist, describes vibrant color as the backbone of her work. Though she began painting in acrylics to avoid introducing toxic paint fumes into her home, she switched to oils to achieve richness and viscosity only an oil paint can provide.
With the support of her husband Pat, Hagan moved her studio from the family kitchen to a workspace attached to the couple’s home south of Billings, and she has been working in the medium ever since.
Hagan’s studio—permeated with the aroma of oil paints—is crowded with her works in process. Baby barn owls peer out from the canvas, their majestic allure captured in layer upon layer of warmly colored oils. Animated bears, their disheveled fur carved from palette knife strokes, gaze from the canvas. And horses, their dignified faces conveying much personality, evolve in the workspace.
“Obviously I love animals,” Hagan said, indicating her favorite subjects to paint are bears and horses. “What little girl never wanted a horse?”
Hagan describes herself as fortunate to live in a pastoral setting where beauty and inspiration are in such abundance. “(Horses) are such an elegant animal, and I’ve always been drawn to them. Bears, too, are a favorite of mine. They have such personalities, and their coats lend themselves incredibly well to experimenting with different colors.”
To achieve such rich texture and color, Hagan’s paintings have upwards of 30 layers of paint, so she rotates the art around her studio, working on a handful at a time as others dry.
“(Painting) is a slow process for me,” Hagan said, explaining a painting will typically take upwards of three weeks to complete. “The fun part is building it up and standing back and taking my time with it.”
Describe your process of painting.
I try not to box myself in by trying to be someone else’s style. When you look at someone’s work and can say, “That’s a Kevin Red Star,” or “That’s Rocky Hawkins” just by a glance, it is because that work comes out of them uninhibited, and it’s their personal style. It comes out and flows through them, and that is what I want to see through me is what flows out of me. I paint by feel; it’s more of an expression.
What led you into painting?
I picked up the paintbrush purely as a form of self-expression. I did not have any intention of selling my paintings or showing them; they were just for me. Someone saw one and asked if they could buy it. It took me by surprise. I loved painting and just the fact that someone would want to having it on their wall meant a lot to me…I really didn’t think that it would continue to evolve into this full-time business.
Hagan’s original works are on display in art galleries in Bozeman, Livingston, Whitefish, Red Lodge, Jackson Hole, and Santa Fe, and her prints can be viewed at Rimrock Art and Frame in Billings. For gallery listings or to contact Hagan, visit www.carolhaganstudios.com.
Originally published in Magic City Magazine, Nov. 2011