|Alex Katz, American (1927 - )
Alex Katz is a leading figure painter of the new realism movement in contemporary art. He is best known for his realistic portraits of friends and family, notable for their relaxed attitudes and uncomplicated bearing.
Katz was born in New York City, and studied art at the Cooper Union from 1945 to 1949. In the late 1950s, he found himself among a growing number of artists dissatisfied with the then-dominant stream of abstract expressionism, with its emphasis on formal abstraction.
The rebellion against abstract expressionism, which continued through the 1960s, took several forms. The most celebrated was the pop art of Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg and others, who sought to mine the motherlodes of media imagery and consumer culture for the content of their art.
In contrast to the pop artists, with their emphasis on the consumer icon, a number of painters in the mid-to-late 1 950s, including Larry Rivers and Alex Katz, had begun to find their own inspiration. in the literal rendition of human figures.
Katz's paintings from the late 1950s to the present have been characterized by such literal, yet expressive, portrayals of human figures. Stylistically, his figures are simplified in form, but not caricatured or rendered grotesque. On the contrary, one of the hallmarks of Katz's figures is their apparent normalcy.
Katz's figures are typically presented at close range from a frontal perspective, and in a flattened manner somewhat suggestive of a Polaroid snapshot.
Filling up the spaces of his canvases, his figures address the viewer head-on, creating a sense of familiarity reinforced by the subjects' relaxed attitudes.
Katz taught painting throughout the 1 960s at such institutions as the Pratt Institute, the School of the Visual Arts in New York, and the New York Studio School. He designed stage sets and costumes for the Paul Taylor Dance Company at the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto in 1960 and 1964.
In the 1970s, his paintings have been highly influential to the development and popularization of the new realism as a discrete movement in contemporary art.
Katz has collaborated with poets and writers since the 1960s, producing several notable editions such as "Face of the Poet" combining his images with poetry from his circle, such as Ted Berrigan, Ann Lauterbach, Carter Ratcliff, and Gerard Malanga. He has worked with the poet John Ashbery, creating publications entitled "Fragment" in 1966 and "Coma Berenices" in 2005. He has worked with Vincent Katz on "A Tremor in the Morning" and "Swimming Home". Katz also made 25 etchings for the Arion Press edition of Gloria with 28 poems by Bill Berkson Other collaborators include Robert Creely, with whom he produced "Edges" and "Legeia: A Libretto" and Kenneth Koch, producing "Interlocking Lives".
Katz has received numerous accolades throughout his career. In 2007, he was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy Museum, New York. In 2005, Katz was the honored artist at the Chicago Humanities Festival’s Inaugural Richard Gray Annual Visual Arts Series. The same year, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from Colgate University, Hamilton, New York— his second Honorary Doctorate, following one from Colby College, Maine, in 1984. Katz was named the Philip Morris Distinguished Artist at the American Academy in Berlin in 2001 and received the Cooper Union Annual Artist of the City Award in 2000. In addition to this honor, in 1994 Cooper Union Art School created the Alex Katz Visiting Chair in Painting with an endowment provided by the sale of ten paintings donated by the artist. Katz was inducted by the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1988. In 1987 he was the recipient of the Pratt Institute’s Mary Buckley Award for achievement and also received the Queens Museum of Art Award for Lifetime Achievement. The Chicago Bar Association honored Katz with the Award for Art in Public Places in 1985. In 1978, Katz received the U.S. Government grant to participate in an educational and cultural exchange with the USSR. Katz was awarded the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship for Painting in 1972.
Numerous publications outline Katz's career's many facets: from Alex Katz in Maine published by the Farnsworth Art Museum to the catalogue Alex Katz New York, published by the Irish Museum of Modern Art. Alex Katz Seeing Drawing, Making, published in 2008, describes Katz's multiple stage process of first producing charcoal drawings, small oil studies, and large cartoons for placing the image on the canvas and the final painting of the canvas. Phaidon Press (2005) published an illustrated survey, Alex Katz by Carter Ratcliff, Robert Storr and Iwona Blazwick. In 1989, a special edition of Parkett was devoted to Katz, showing that he is now considered a major reference for younger painters and artists. Over the years, Francesco Clemente, Enzo Cucchi, Liam Gillick, Peter Halley, David Salle and Richard Prince have written essays about his work or conducted interviews with him.
In 1996, Vincent Katz and Vivien Bittencourt produced a video titled Alex Katz: Five Hours, documenting the production of his painting January 3 and in 2008 he was the subject of a documentary directed by Heinz Peter Schwerfel, entitled What About Style? Alex Katz: a Painter's Painter.