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The Art Story Homepage Artists Alex Katz
Alex Katz Photo

Alex Katz

American Draftsman and Painter

Movements and Styles: Pop Art, Contemporary Realism

Born: July 24, 1927 - Brooklyn, New York

Alex Katz Timeline

"I can't think of anything more exciting than the surface of things. Just appearance."

Alex Katz Signature

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.

Key Ideas

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.
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 Important Art and Analysis

The below artworks are the most important by Alex Katz - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Winter Scene (1951-52)
Artwork Images Google images

Winter Scene (1951-52)

Artwork description & Analysis: 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.

Oil on composition board - Museum of Modern Art, NY

Four Children (c. 1951)
Artwork Images Google images

Four Children (c. 1951)

Artwork description & Analysis: 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.

Oil on board - Colby College Museum of Art

Ada in the Water (1958)
Artwork Images Google images

Ada in the Water (1958)

Artwork description & Analysis: 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.

Collage - Whitney Museum of American Art

More Alex Katz Artwork and Analysis:

The Black Dress (1960) Frank O'Hara (1959-58) Red Smile (1963) Black Brook 11 (1990)

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Alex Katz
Interactive chart with Alex Katz's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart
Show influences

Artists

Georges BraqueGeorges Braque
Henri MatisseHenri Matisse
Jackson PollockJackson Pollock
Barnett NewmanBarnett Newman

Personal Contacts

Edwin DenbyEdwin Denby
Fairfield PorterFairfield Porter
Larry RiversLarry Rivers

Movements

Abstract ExpressionismAbstract Expressionism
Post-Painterly AbstractionPost-Painterly Abstraction
Pop ArtPop Art
Influences on Artist
Influences on Artist
Alex Katz
Alex Katz
Years Worked: 1950 - present
Influenced by Artist
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Peter DoigPeter Doig
Richard PrinceRichard Prince
Julian SchnabelJulian Schnabel

Personal Contacts

Chuck CloseChuck Close
Lucy LippardLucy Lippard

Movements

PhotorealismPhotorealism
Pop ArtPop Art

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Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" 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. Information
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