American painter Alex Katz has twenty-seven small paintings in the ARTIST ROOMS collection which span his career. He began working in New York in the 1950s, focusing on representational subjects at a time when Abstract Expressionism was in favour. This set him apart from the avant-garde, but brought him public recognition in the 1980s when many young artists began to work figuratively.
Katz’s scale increased dramatically in the 1960s and he is now well known for the stylized portraits of this period. Their high octane drama creates parallels with the aesthetics of film and advertising, making them valid precursors to Pop Art. He has also explored numerous other subjects which can be seen in this collection, including landscapes, seascapes, interiors and flowers.
Throughout his career Katz has consistently made small, en plein air paintings which explore aspects of his ordinary life. Katz expresses line and form in these studies with deft, residual brushstrokes, revealing the influence of expressionism. These are used as studies for his distinctive larger works, which when scaled up are simplified and depersonalized.
All the portraits in this collection depict the artists’ friends or family, including his son Vincent, a habitual model for Katz since his birth in 1960. Since the start of his career Katz has spent summers in Maine, where most of the landscape paintings in this collection were made. Many create a quiet melancholia reminiscent of Edvard Munch. Others veer closer to abstraction, suggesting links with Abstract Expressionist painters like Jackson Pollock and Willem De Kooning.
Katz’s small paintings display a debt to Japanese art, with close-up or decentred compositions and decorative subjects. They display an intimate function as independent art works, and seen collectively can be considered as a distinct and consistent body of work.