World Fine Art Professionals and their Key-Pieces, 47 - Sasja Hagens

Sasja Hagens is the painter of the port of Rotterdam; huge ships, cranes, docks. It radiates power. Het work was a big hit, especially in Rotterdam. All kinds of port companies and port managers wanted a Hagens. The mayor took a painting when he went to Shanghai, Rotterdam’s sister city. But her work evolved further.

She puts a large painting on the wall of her studio, is is typical of the long series of harbour works. It’s called Audacia, overconfidence. At the bottom of the painting is a protruding part of wood. In addition to paint there is emulsion, sand, styrofoam, insolation material and there are ropes hanging from the deck down.

Sasja Hagens: ‘It’s amazing that I still have this painting, because actually it should be sold. I saw the ship in a dry dock. It is an ocean liner that has been transformed into a pipelayer. Every few meters a pipe goes off board, it is welded to another pipe and this goes on till the entire pipeline has been laid on the bottom of the ocean.  And then oil goes through. But something went wrong here. The pipeline project, a very ambitious project, stopped before it was finished. Hence the title Audacia.’


It all started at the World Harbour Days of 2004. A gallery invited her to make a port painting. The work received a good response. It inspired her to go on. With each subsequent work she got freer in painting them. They weren’t standard works.  It proved to be an instant success. They sold like hot cakes, one after the other. She also received assignments.

And she approached potential interested parties. Wouldn’t it be possible to have an exhibition in Shanghai MoMa, the Museum of Modern Art of Shanghai, sister city of Rotterdam? She went to China to take a look, talked with the director and in between arranged that a major Dutch bank, ABN AMRO, would be sponsor.  In 2008 she got the exhibition. Former Mayor Opstelten was accompanied not only by the bank, but by Sasja Hagens as well. For a change, the city of Shanghai received a painted gift.

Bridge over Troubled Water

But now she is in a new phase. More abstract. She puts Audacia in the hallway and puts a new painting in its place. A triptych. Also with large dimensions: 5.10 to 2.30 and this three times. It is called Bridge over Troubled Water / The Intoxication of Victory. Hagens: ‘It is the story of the Zeeland Bridge. I wanted to paint differently, with much more rhythm and more attention to the colors.  That’s what really concerns me: the color, the texture, the material. The meaning of a painting lies in how you do it, how you apply the paint.’

Her theme is not primarely ports, water and all that is related, she says, but:  the human intervention in nature. Hagens: ‘They are monumental forms that represent the actions of mankind who is competing against nature. That’s a romantic idea. I think it’s nice that the human  kind does this. In my studio I try to give meaning to it through paint in various colors. I try to make combinations that I had not thought of before. It is a fire that stirs you. If it succeeds, there is meaning. You have to find a good balance between the idea and how you run it. It is more fun, I become more free. Actually, I have the best job in the world.’  


We look again at The Bridge over Troubled Water. It is more abstract. There’s rhythm. In some places the paint is in thick layers. You see pylons and bridge sections in red and white. The water /sea in green and blue blocks. Hagens: ‘The bridge was built using a vessel specially designed to put the pylons. In advance the places where they would be were already sprayed with sand. When the job was finished, the ship was demolished.’ She shows me a black/white photograph of the bridge in a book.

And besides she started with reed landscapes, abstract and with rhythm as well. Sasja Hagens: ‘It’s nice to do something beyond ‘your thing’. I will continue with those reed landscapes. It’s my own natural way. I went to the Weerribben in Overijssel for the sketches. But with this new work I’ll lose some people. People who like a portpainting which I made a few years ago. So be it.’


When Sasja graduated from The Hague Academy of Fine Arts, twenty years ago, she had one purpose: to be able to live from the arts. ‘While no one is waiting for you when you graduate. But I did not want to do chores to make ends meet.  I just wanted to paint, and that worked out pretty quickly.’

She now wants to make an exhibition of her recent work: the paintings on the Delta Works and the reed landscapes. Her work was recently presented at the KunstRai (with galerie Untitled), she participates in the Mesdag exhibition in Pulchri Art Society in The Hague and all summer she has a solo exhibition at the Centre of Visual Arts (CBK) in Rotterdam. And throughout the year you can see her work at the Maritime Museum.

When I finally ask her for her philosophy, she says: ‘Never forget why you went to the Academy of Arts. Why did I do it? Because I wanted to make the most colorful, the most ferocious paintings. And not from a dark theme. Finally you’re staring eight hours a day at your own work. Every day. I am a cheerful type. Not that obscure work would be necessarily bad, it might even be good. But modern art can also be fun. The Chinese expressed their surprise over this. That was nice to hear. I’m having a good time. But ultimately you are a craftsman. In this respect I am a true Rotterdammer.’





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