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A step away from them
A conversation with Alex Katz

From John Baldessari to Francesco Clemente, from Eric Fischl to A.R. Penck – the exhibition "Singular Multiples," which can currently be seen at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, offers an impressive panorama of graphic art. All of the more than 400 works shown stem from the archive of Peter Blum Editions, which published graphic editions by many important artists from 1980 to 1994. The three-part show is being sponsored by Deutsche Bank. A conversation with Alex Katz marks the beginning of our series of exclusive interviews with artists represented in the exhibition. Cheryl Kaplan met with Alex Katz in New York – at home and in the studio.

Alex Katz, 3 PM, 1988,
Courtesy / Copyright Peter Blum Editions, New York and Alex Katz, © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2006

It feels like Katz is everywhere these days: at the Armory Show in his hometown New York earlier this spring, and now at Pace Wildenstein with a major exhibition called The Sixties that includes some works never before seen. An incredibly impressive Phaidon monograph has also recently been published. In October 2006, Katz will be having a major retrospective of his Ada paintings called Ada by Alex Katz at New York’s Jewish Museum. The series is based on paintings of his wife Ada, who has been the unceasing subject of many of Katz’s works. She is a biologist with an uncanny patience, intelligence, and humor. Katz’s paintings of her not only trace her evolution, but the evolution of their lives and the context of the social in all its callings.

Alex Katz at his opening at PaceWildenstein,
Foto Courtesy Cheryl Kaplan. © Cheryl Kaplan 2006. All rights reserved.

Alex Katz at his New York studio,
Photo Courtesy Cheryl Kaplan.
©Cheryl Kaplan 2006. All rights reserved.

To divide Katz into figures and landscapes is to smooth over the complex task the artist has undertaken since his start in 1954, when the poet Frank O’Hara first reviewed his work for Art News . Katz is a rare painter. He has an impeccable sense of timing, scale, and color, using scale to expose everyday life and revealing a deeply personal moment as well. An early project involved extremely oversized, isolated images of heads. He has continued these paintings along with landscapes. It is interesting to see how Katz has tracked the social. He has painted cocktail parties and lawn parties, scenes in the afternoon and at night when no one is around. His work often starts with drawings developed over long periods of time and quickly made smaller paintings often done on location. The larger paintings are done in his studio in New York. Katz also spends time in Maine, mostly summers and paints there as well.

Katz’s work is in the collections of major international museums ranging from the Whitney Museum of American Art (USA) and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia (Spain) to the Neue Nationalgalerie (Germany).

Cheryl Kaplan: How did enlargement let you re-invent the image?

Alex Katz: It was around 1957 that I wanted to do specific portraits. I was working in landscape, with big areas of flat color. I had gone from all-over painting in the early 50s to big color weights. Franz Kline had these black areas [in his paintings] that [acted like] weights, which was similar to how Rothko used color as weight. I started to use color that way. It leads you into Velázquez and Titian , who used color similarly to Kline. After Rothko, I understood Titian.

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