Monday, January 10, 2011


Serene with a hint of vibe, an Alex Katz painting, print, cutout, wows without sweat. Appearance and style rule; as the artist himself confirms,every move that the sleek haired Ada makes could be freeze framed. Alex looks at a person's gesture, or that person against a certain atmospheric condition, an iconic printed scarf, a dappled pond surrounded by, for example, birch trees....and says:
that's it! And through all the process that incurs to make the resulting image, the one-look remains.

The vibe occurs from the juxtaposition of subtle color which, at first seems contained. Yet each color plays off the other to create rhythmic images that jolt the eye of the viewer: the Wow. People and scenery in the paintings seem familiar, their features pleasant and unchallenging, gazing slightly away. Clothing, draped attractively on figures is simple and no trinket adornments occur to compete for attention. Leaves and tree bark are often silhouetted against a clear sky. But patchy, yet controlled eye movement sets up when reflections in water surface assertively point out the light, as if our camera's flash worked overtime to highlight the individual oddity of these surfaces. We know we are looking at a fleeting moment, and yet...

The cleanliness of the painted surface is refreshing every time. Painting with confident strokes, the hand of the artist, the brush stroke, is implied just enough to use the word painterly. Although obviously enamored of the scene before him, the artist refuses to let it get in the way of the music he is making. Think piano technical ability, which is all but forgotten as we are swept up in the beauty of the music.

Katz is a painter's painter in his loving application of broad sweeps of clear tones and subtle contained shapes indicating form. However, his gift for universalizing his subject matter comes from his ability to make icons at the same time. While certainly painting individuals, he sees their pose as a type, and this type, painted with strong areas of color that appear fresh, intimate, and 'cool,' immortalize the subject matter and stamp it in our minds, long after we leave the gallery or museum. We come away with a sense of looking at and thinking about the world through the eye and language of the artist.
Just as Keith Haring developed a unique form of symbolism to communicate, Katz sees the world through his own rose colored glasses. He gives us a way to navigate the every day commercialism all around, to elevate our conception of the observable world, and make painterly sense of the mosaic of stimuli that we encounter every day.