Alex Katz (born 1927)
On July 24, 1927 Alex Katz was born in New York City. From 1946-49 he studied at the Cooper Union School of Art in New York, and then at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine from 1949-50. In 1972 he was awarded the Guggenheim Grant in Painting.
Alex Katz is notable among artists who have emerged since 1950. His career now spans more than fifty years, and he has produced a large body of work that displays a unique aspect of modern realism. The mainstay of Katz’s paintings since the late 1950’s have been portraits, and his subjects are often his wife, Ada, son, Vincent, and a circle of friends composed of artists, poets, critics and dancers. His portraits combine aspects of both abstraction and representation, and are characterized by flatly painted, dramatically cropped, oversize heads that recall movies, advertising and billboards
Drafted on V-J Day, Katz had a brief stint in the Navy, and spent time in places as varied as Marseille, France, Panama, and Japan. When he mustered out, he used money from the GI bill to attend Cooper Union.
Later, living in New York’s East Village in the 1950s, Katz was surrounded by the art and artists of Abstract Expressionism. Unlike the emotionally charged abstractions of artists such as Pollock and DeKooning, Katz favored cool, representational work. When the dominant trend in artmaking involved emotional outbursts of color, Katz was filling galleries with spare, simplified portraits and landscapes painted with control. In his 1992 book about the artist, Sam Hunter describes Katz’s portraiture as having a “lack of any apparent interest in revealing his sitter’s personality,” and Katz himself would likely agree, as he says his work does not contain narrative. What concerns Katz most is the surface appearance and the translation of a three-dimensional world onto a two dimensional surface.
For almost fifty years, he has painted portraits of his wife, Ada, and many books and articles have been written about the cumulative effect of this body of work, and her role as his muse, comparing her to other ‘goddesses’ who have capitvated the imagination of portrait painters.
Katz has also taught painting at several institutions, including the Brooklyn Museum of Art and Yale Universtiy. Since 1954 Katz has been a summer resident of Lincolnville, Maine, and has developed a relationship with Colby College there. The college presented him with an honorary doctorate in 1984, and in October 1996, the Colby College Museum of Art opened a wing dedicated to Katz that features more than 400 oil paintings, collages and prints that he had donated.