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Alex Katz Photo

Alex Katz

American Draftsman and Painter

Born: July 24, 1927 - Brooklyn, New York
Movements and Styles:
Pop Art
Contemporary Realism
"I can't think of anything more exciting than the surface of things. Just appearance."
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Alex Katz Signature
"When you're working with the tradition of art, you're usually painting like the paintings you've seen; your vision is other people's vision. You see things through the culture in which you live, and the culture in which you live is always past tense. Some people are always seeing things in another time period. To see things in the present time period, you have to break through, and that's what I've been trying to do."
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"Part of what I'm about is seeing how I can paint the same thing differently instead of the different things the same way."
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"Painting does not need you. You have to need painting. Painting has to become you."
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"An older painter gave me some advice: 'Figuration is obsolete and color is French.' I said to myself, 'To you, baby." Actually, I had no idea whether what I was doing was going to find an audience, but my instincts told me there was no other way for me."
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"Painting seems an old man's business. After a certain time you're out of it, and you just paint masterpieces."
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Summary of Alex Katz

Alex Katz is a New York based painter and printmaker, specializing in boldly simplified portraits and landscapes. Though influenced by American Scene artists as well as diverse elements of European and American modernism, he has avoided affiliation with any group or movement. To a great degree, Katz's distinction lies in the fascinating dialogue he developed between realism and more abstract tendencies in modernism. His heroically scaled landscapes and figural compositions recall Monet's late Water Lilies, Abstract Expressionist compositions, and roadside billboards. Rendered in bold and flat colors with sparing detail, his canvases create a double affirmation of the motif and the painted surface. His technique owes much to the crisp manner of commercial art and illustration, and this feature, along with his uncomplicated display of contemporary subjects, dovetails into Pop art. Much in the way Andy Warhol turned a Campbell's soup can into an instantly recognizable symbol, Katz transformed his circle of family and friends into visually arresting icons. His repeated return to subjects for which he has a fondness, such as his wife, pool-side bathers, and the quiet Maine landscape, encourages reception of his work as a blithesome celebration of the everyday in middle-class America.


  • Katz claimed his art to be about "surface," which can be understood both in terms of his penchant for flat fields of color and clean lines, and also in the fact that his imagery is not particularly psychologically complex.
  • Katz's works bridge the gap between traditions of abstraction and figuration. For instance, his choice of monumental scale intensifies the lines, contours, colors, shapes, and his technique, such that those formal elements balance the figurative subject matter.

Biography of Alex Katz

Alex Katz Photo

Alex Katz was born in the Sheepshead Bay area of Brooklyn in 1927, and grew up in St. Albans, Queens. He began drawing at an early age with his father, a businessman, and knew that he wanted to study art exclusively by the time he attended Woodrow Wilson High School, which provided a program that allowed him to split the day between academics and the arts.

Important Art by Alex Katz

Winter Scene (1951-52)

Winter Scene is composed of quick, painterly brushstrokes, and the scene at once echoes Impressionistic plein-air painting as well as Fauve and Abstract Expressionist technique. Size and density of the leafless growth help to distinguish foreground from background, but due to the stark contrast of the strokes against the white canvas, we see here Katz's early preference for a dynamic tension between both depth and surface. The sober, delicate shades of gray characterize many of his earlier paintings, while the insistent, openly luminous off-white demonstrates his penchant for Color Fields that is seen in his later works. When several of his early works were included in one of his first shows at Roko Gallery, but were overshadowed by the works of the other artist exhibiting in the gallery space, Katz decided that the lack of color in his painting was a mistake and started experimenting with more intense hues.

Four Children (c. 1951)

Four Children is one of Katz's first forays into figurative painting after viewing work in a similar style by the artists exhibiting in the 10th Street galleries. As in Winter Scene, he shows little concern for detail, focusing instead on color and shape. The distinctly outlined motionless figures are simplified, almost abstract shapes that at once float against and are wedged into the background, foretelling his collages and cutouts. The basic construction of space through diagonal wedges of local and non-local color on the left, and horizontal banding on the right, and distinct colors between their legs, conveys but a shallow sense of space here, which alludes to the Cubist roots from the curriculum at Cooper Union.

Ada in the Water (1958)

Setting himself apart from the avant-garde, Katz started to work in a small format that directly opposed the grand scale of Abstract Expressionism. While he returned to larger dimensions later, Ada in the Water emphasizes simple shape over the painterly mark in a relatively spare economy of means. Instead of using various found materials as was done in much modernist collage, Katz created this work with carefully hand-colored papers that are cut into definite shapes, which foreshadows the juxtaposition of flat Color Fields in his later works. Here, Ada poses as though in a photographic wide-angle landscape shot, a format which Katz often deployed in his mature phase. Collages such as Ada in the Water led to the series of cutouts begun in 1959, which play with the relationship between figure and background or surrounding space, as is prefigured here.

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Alex Katz
Influenced by Artist
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Close Influences

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Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Alex Katz Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 15 Oct 2012. Updated and modified regularly
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