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Sasja Hagens: “The paint is the story”

Grand and immersive. That’s how I’d describe the paintings of Sasja Hagens. I got to meet this successful artist in her studio in the north of Rotterdam. “I start painting for real the moment I realize: this looks like bullshit!”

You can see Sasja Hagen’s paintings from July 1 until September 5 2015 at Kunstuitleen Rotterdam. 

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So Sasja, you’ve been pretty successful these last few years. How did it all start out?

I’ve been working as an artist for about twenty years now. My first study was set design. The subject I enjoyed most was painting and so I switched studies as soon as I could. I graduated in Painting and Drawing at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague.

What was the click with painting for you at the time?

To be honest, I was originally more interested in photography.When I was seventeen, I had a boyfriend who was a photographer. But when I saw him schlepping around big camera’s and heavy lights through all kinds of weather, I thought I’d go crazy if I had to do that myself all the time. I much preferred sitting in a warm and cosy studio, painting with the lights on. But all kidding aside, at the end I do have deeper emotions about painting of course.

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What are those deeper emotions?

I have a good sense of color and I’ve always been lucky enough to be able to express that. The theme of my work changes throughout time, though. Especially after I had finished a big series of paintings about ports I wanted to do something different. I’d sold every single piece and thought to myself, I’d really like to make a good painting for a change. I always get that feeling when something is done.

Are you that self-critical?

Oh no! It’s rather that I always see new possibilities. Don’t get me wrong though.I can really enjoy looking at my own work, but not too long. Every work has been such a struggle, such a quest for a solution. There always comes a moment when I’m more or less done with it.

What are the problems you run into?

I always start with a plan. And the intention to make the best painting ever. That’s how I learned things. If you don’t have that mindset, then just don’t do it.

I always start out painting exactly what I had in mind. But most of the time I get stuck at the moment when all my swell ideas turn out not to work. That’s when blind panic sets in. I feel abandoned by the hemisphere of my brain that makes up all my nice little plans. I start paining for real the moment I think to myself, this looks like bullshit!

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So what makes you come up with a plan every time before you start painting?

I have to! You’re nowhere without a plan. Most of the time, however, something good happens in  the end. But sometimes it doesn’t. And those are not my finest moments. Luckily, I’ve become a lot more self-confident. I don’t mind so much when I’m screwing up a painting. At least I give myself the space to try out something new. Staring at a blank canvas with big eyes has never helped me. It’s the actual painting that makes me happy.

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What is it that makes you happy when you’re painting?

To me, it’s all about color. About rhythm. About seeing what it is, yet letting the abstract value of the painting dominate. It’s not about the picture, it’s about the dynamics of applying the paint. That generates meaning.

People sometimes ask me why I’ve spent so much time painting ports – such an obvious theme. But their size and industrial quality light the fire in me. Artists can still be innovative within classical themes like ports and portraits, so as far as I’m concerned there’s plenty of space for me. I’m also fascinated by the huge size of the Dutch Delta Works and the Zeeland Bridge. Man is small and builds big things in an attempt to stop nature for a while. That gives me a romantic feeling.

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Do you have tip for starting artists?

What has always helped me is that I come into my studio each and every day and think to myself, never forget why you went to art school! During my first year, I thought that I was going to make the coolest paintings in the world. And I think you should never let go of that thought.

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