Marie Hagerty | New Work


New Work


The Sydney writer of a recent postgraduate thesis likens the course of Marie Hagerty’s art over more than twenty years to the flight of an arrow. It’s a good image. The arrow in flight responds to the contained energy which, coupled with a quality of arrest, is a feature of Hagerty’s paintings. Likewise, the idea of flight is pertinent to the creative drive that propels her work, whereby the imagery and handling of each work evolves out of past work into a completely new space. The undeviating directness of Marie’s arrow traces the evolution in her capacity to express ideas in paint.


Before this exhibition I enjoyed myself too much with the formal aspects of her works of art to pay equal attention to the narrative tug. The smaller canvases in this exhibition invite such a reading: they are deliciously painted constructivist analogues. So, too, are the larger works a delight to the eye. Consider the play of blacks in these new works – shiny black enamel, matt blacks, greys of endlessly modulating soft texture – and the forms that slide, fly, rock, hang (tied), shoot forth and empty themselves inside-out. Yet the effect of elaborating the details in the larger images has been to weigh in on the side of what the images mean. They are political paintings. Groping for the fewest words to describe the defining quality in Marie’s vision, I come up with Robert Lowell, or rather with a correspondence between her art and his poetry.  Both are animistic. And epicurean. As with Lowell, the sensate and the disabused coexist in Marie’s vision. The eye of both fixes on humankind’s power machines.


The machines we live in engage the eye:

‘Somewhere a white wall faces a white wall,

One wakes the other, the other wakes the first,

each burning in the other’s borrowed splendour—

the walls, once woken, are forced to go on talking,

their color looks much alike, two shadings of white,

each living in the shadow of the other.’    (‘Two walls’, April 8, 1968, from Notebook)


The machines we operate destroy our world:

‘…One morning last March

I pressed against the new barbed and galvanized

fence on the Boston Common. Behind their cage,

yellow dinosaur steamshovels were grunting

as they cropped up tons of mush and grass

to gouge their underworld garage.’  (‘For the Union Dead’)


Looking back, Marie seems always to have shown a world stalked by religious and political hierarchies. Recently she has pictured vulnerable flesh bonded to machinery; and puppetry’s strings (aka Baconian swings) suspending human autonomy. Her current theme is the “womanplane”, an ambiguous marriage of female pilot and bomber plane. In the main painting the womanplane’s flight is direct and inexorable.


Mary Eagle

Canberra September 2015