Susan Hagen

Contact Information:


Artist's Statement:

I am deeply committed to the art of sculpture, and for the past 20 years or so I have worked primarily with wood. I see my work in the context of polychromatic wood sculpture: medieval European altarpieces, German expressionist wood sculpture, American folk and outsider art. My fascination with wood sculpture from the Middle Ages allowed me to discover the expressive potential of carved wood, as well as a lost world of wood carving technique. This tradition of wood carving continues to inspire me with its articulate form and pure expression of pain, joy and other emotions.

Many of the ideas in my current series of sculptures, The Tree Carpet Project, grew out of my ongoing artistic concerns. I'm interested in exploring the possibility of a symbolic order in contemporary urban experience, through the reinterpretation of the traditional mythological and religious subjects of art history. I also work with imagery and ideas mined from passionate interests in zoology, horticulture, psychology, and the history of art and culture -- ranging from fish decoys to opera. Subjects from my own life, such as my family and friends, my garden, my pets, and my own struggles and joys are woven through the work. My sculptures show animal, plant, and human forms as interwoven, interdependent parts of a whole, which are firmly based on the earth. Ultimately, they speak to the essential rooted-ness and spiritual connected-ness of human beings to the world we live.

I am now completing the last few sculptures in the Tree Carpet Project, a series of 60 carved wood sculptures inspired by a Persian tree carpet in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The strong emphasis on trees in the carpet reflects my ongoing interest in trees and wood - not only as the material, but as the subject of my work. The sculptures explore the idea of the garden of earthly delights, using allegorical tree-human figures, plants and animals. The goal of my project is to create a garden of woodcarvings that grow upward from the schematic carpet, not as a strictly literal progression, but as a personal and organic growth process. The incorporation of decorative and figurative elements into an architectural context in, for example, Medieval European cathedrals, Kurt Schwitter's Merzbau or the Throne of James Hampton provides a historical precedent for my method. Several work-in-progress exhibitions have allowed me to explore ideas for the final installation, in which I hope to create compact theatrical relationships between the 60 sculptures, using richly painted floors and walls, walkways, meandering paths, and low walls.

Technically, my work requires large amounts of time and patience both in the development of ideas and the craftsmanship of embodying these ideas materially. As a sculpture develops, I am faced with decisions, great and small, about the direction of the work. I try to work with the contradictions inherent in the theme as the work evolves. Finding the right level of detail is absolutely critical in a small piece. I like to have the freshness and gestural quality of the rough work along with a level of detail that reveals keen observation and deep feeling for the subject. The art of woodcarving is very time consuming, but absolutely essential to my vision. I search out forms by using carving tools as drawing instruments. There is no way of avoiding labor-intensive work with hand tools, because the idea and the material evolve through this patient process in a material conversation. Through the slow process of woodcarving I've gradually become more focused on the poetic articulation of forms in space, the physicality of material, and the sensual aspects of humans, plants, and animals.

Tree Carpet Project: Dryad
2004, carved linden, oils, 22 x 12 x 12"

Tree Carpet Project: Embla (First Woman)
2002, carved linden, oils, 20 x 9 x 8 "

Tree Carpet Project: Oracle Tree
2000, carved linden, mahogany, persimmon, oils, 18 x 7 x 9"

Tree Carpet Project: Green Woman (Primavera)
2000, limewood, oils, 8 x 15 x 7 "

Tree Carpet Project: Lady with Rose Garden
1998, limewood, oils, 14 x 8 x 6"

ApplicationPrevious Recipients | George Sugarman ArtworksAbout the Foundation