Using stills from early propaganda films or frontier paintings as a basis, the layered paintings of Joshua Hagler deconstruct our history. Each work goes through several iterations, distorting and removing previous layers to arrive at something new entirely. The explorations become both visceral and introspective in this process.
“This current body of work draws inspiration from Lethe, the Greek mythological river of forgetting,” a recent statement says. “It was said that one drinks from Lethe before being reborn, losing most or all memory of the past. German philosopher, Heidegger interpreted Lethe not as a simple accident of forgetting, but as a ‘concealment of being.’ The task for Heidegger was ‘unconcealment,’ in turn Hagler sets to uncover personal truths by examining America’s cultural amnesia and psychological repression.”
See more of the artist’s recent work below.
Recently a friend asked me write something about my process for her students, so I used my painting "Skin Shed Song" as an example. I thought I'd share an abbreviated version here on Instagram. This painting will be in my upcoming solo show "The River Lethe" at the Brand Library and Art Center in L.A. The image is based on a Frederic Remington watercolor first painted in 1892. I discovered the work a couple years ago in a 1981 issue of Gateway Heritage, a defunct quarterly published by the Missouri Historical Society. I buy old and out-of-print books, catalogues, and magazines from antique stores when I can. I bought this one in a little town called Boonville near the Missouri River when traveling along it for research. When I stumbled upon this Remington watercolor, I was stunned by what I saw: a frontiersman on a horse about to commit suicide. Reading the caption of the image, however, I learned that during buffalo hunts, hunters would sometimes reload their rifles by spitting the ball through the barrel directly into live powder, flip that murder machine around, and continue shooting. I’ll refrain from elucidating on what that paradox means to me, but I think it’s enough to say that the way we see it now is much different than the way others would have been likely to see it in 1892. That the same image can shift meaning over time, not because it changes, but because we change, tends to be what I’m generally drawn to imagery-wise. Looking at the Remington page in Gateway Heritage and at Abraham on my computer screen, I made three studies (two shown here). In this case, I thought that to still the horse, rather than depict it running as Remington did, would shift the meaning of the work even further. And rather than having the horse facing right, I wanted the horse to face us, the viewers. Using ink on a toothless film in the small works is hard to control, and in that process, the rifle ended up looking more like a bugle or a horn of some kind. Suddenly the suicidal buffalo hunter was a musician, or, as a friend pointed out, a minstrel.