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Alex Katz – Master Minimalist

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Alex Katz – Orange Hat

 

“Paint faster than you can think.” — Alex Katz

Alex Katz was born in Brooklyn on July 24th, 1927 at the very beginning of the Depression. His Russian émigré parents were both interested in the arts and supported his evident talent as a boy in Queens. He then received a scholarship to study art at the legendary Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture on a rural farm in Maine. It was there that the young Katz was introduced to plein air painting and decided to dedicate his life to making art.

From the beginning, he knew he wanted to achieve a trademark style. Throughout his first ten years of practice, the artist destroyed countless paintings. That dedication served him well, as his work is now celebrated for its distillation, force of vision and singular perspective.

Though he started painting in the 1940s, he continues to be prolific into the present day. Yet Katz only achieved fame in the 80s, when the public finally caught up to his elegant simplicity and clean sensibility.

 

Realist Paintings

“Realist painting has to do with leaving out a lot of detail. I think my painting can be a little shocking in all that it leaves out. But what happens is that the mind fills in what’s missing… Painting is a way of making you see what I saw.” — Alex Katz

Almost entirely painting landscapes and portraits, Katz uses extreme economy without sacrificing feeling. This unique style both informed and helped shape modernism in the 20th century. His portraits often feature his friends, family, and mostly his beloved wife and muse, Ada, who appears memorably throughout the decades in his work.

With his elegance of form. reducing the background to monochromatic fields and exploring printmaking, he became a major inspiration for the Pop Art movement.

His large format environmental paintings are some of his standout accomplishments, and these were all done past his 80th birthday. His “Tulips” series effortlessly masters organic form through his graceful finesse and style. The yellow of the petals blossom out of a dark grey background. Such a modern approach reawakens his classic subject matter. What is old is new again in the hands of Katz.

In his “Forest” woodcut (2009), the vertical lines of the trunks are interrupted by the confetti-like vision of the leaves. The artwork is enormous, evoking the impressive presence of a forest itself.

But Alex Katz’s paintings aren’t the only contributions in his historic career. He’s also worked in dance, fashion, public art and film.

 

The Ever-Quotable Alex Katz

Many artists paint because it is their only way to express themselves. But some are also blessed with the ability to communicate in other ways.

Rothko and Kandinsky are famous 20th century artists who could also write comprehensive works on their theories on art and painting. But Alex Katz has a more aphoristic style.

“In a hundred years? That’s a residue. It’s the here and now that I’m interested in. If you get that, it explodes into eternity.” — Alex Katz

These snippets of insight haunt his work once you read them. And they remind us of the most important feature of his paintings: these are works that live. Art historian Robert Storr describes the work of Alex Katz as “a new and distinctive type of realism in American art which combines aspects of both abstraction and representation.”

At 94 years old, Alex Katz shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, just recently, he was commissioned to create a series of cutout sculptures for New York’s Park Avenue and enhance the interior of the 57th Street subway station with a colorful, permanent, glass installation, “Metropolitan Faces.” Katz’s work i