Enjoy! Love, Jamie
Life is funny. We’re in public even when we don’t want to be, and someone’s always watching. The process of being observed never ends, and artists who paint what they see have to decide what to show and how to show it.
Alex Katz makes these kinds of decisions all the time, especially when the subject is Ada, whom he first painted in 1957, and married the next year, so you can see how crucial they are. She’s not just anyone but his wife,
his constant muse and model, star, and he’s painted her in many divergent situations — as part of a crowd, or a landscape, in private, alone, or in multiple versions of herself in the same painting.
Katz has taken her singular look and presented it in different formal contexts, and whether public or private she’s always there as a symbol for something never spelled out, and though her look may be explicit, the secrets within are manifold.
A maverick from the beginning, Katz came of age when Abstract Expressionism still reigned, yet he turned to painting landscapes and the human figure. Over time, his paintings got bigger.
“Appropriating the monumental scale, stark composition and dramatic light of the Abstract Expressionists, he would beat the heroic generation at their own game,” the critic Carter Ratcliff wrote in a 2005 monograph on Katz.
“It was an open door,” Katz says today. “No one was doing representational painting on a large scale.”
Taking cues from Cinemascope movies and billboards, his highly stylized pictures also anticipated Pop Art. His deadpan evocation of flat, bright figures had an everyday quality that linked them to commercial
art and popular culture. Early on, his work was often panned. Clement Greenberg, the critic famous for championing the Abstract Expressionists, “actually went out of his way to say how lousy I was,
” Katz recalled in an article he wrote for the New Criterion.
But critical opinion has never seemed to matter to Katz. “Alex is a man of supreme confidence and clarity,” says Adam Weinberg, director of the Whitney Museum of American Art. “He quickly realized what he was
about and was absolutely undaunted and single-minded in that pursuit. That persistence enabled him to weather the contradictory movements in the art world.”
Today, Katz’s popularity is exploding. His quintessentially American evocations of people at cocktail parties or the beach and his landscapes of Maine took off in Europe, especially after the collector Charles Saatchi
showed off his Katzes in his private museum in London a decade ago. The painter has also found a substantial new audience at home in the United States. As figurative painting made a comeback in the late ’80s and ’90s,
a younger generation of artists began to see Katz with new appreciation. “Artists were looking at their predecessors, but there were not a lot of them who’d continued in that figurative zone consistently,