In the 1950s, Alex Katz was one of the first artists of his generation who dissociated from the gesture painting of Abstract Expressionism and anticipated Pop Art with a billboardish figurative style. His paintings were an expression of a new American spirit and reflected the needs of the public.
The human portrait was always in the centre of Alex Katz’s oeuvre, two dimensional figures on a homogenous ground, at first sight decorative and superficial. But every detail is thorougly composed. The significance of composition and the working process become apparent in his pieces. The small paintings – or oil sketches – illustrate the approach to a motive. It is often only a little detail that changes from one sketch to the next, a position, a gesture, the light, the colors. In a very impressive way these works reflect which parts of a motive were particularly interesting to the artist and what exactly engaged his attention. The result of this complicated search becomes visible in his large works which seem to depict a coincidental moment despite of their perfect and detailed composition. Once Katz stated in an interview: “I am trying to practise a formalism that is alive.”
The continuity of his subjects is remarkable: landscapes, especially beach scenes and flowers are as present as human portraits. Katz’s most important model is his wife Ada who has been the motive of innumerable paintings. Due to the monochrome background, the depicted moment as well as its historical context remain unclear. It is the gestures of the figures, the light, and the color that give the viewer the impression that they are seeing a short and coincidental moment. His works are not meant to be statements – they are timeless, an aspect that is sometimes accentuated by the element of repetition within his works, as in “Double Ada”.
Alex Katz was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1927. He studied at The Cooper Union Art School in New York and at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine. In 1994, The Cooper Union endowed the Alex Katz Visiting Chair in Painting, and in 2000 honored the artist with its “Artist of the City” award.
Alex Katz, who has been represented by the gallery since 1989, lives and works in New York.
Alex Katz’s work has been shown in nearly 200 international solo exhibitions since 1954, including: Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh (2000), The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2001), and Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Bonn (2002).