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In the 1950s, during the times when Abstract Expressionism and conceptual aesthetics where at their highest standard, Alex Katz took counter-current choices, deciding to focus his attention on the stillness and empathy that he found in rural settings, landscapes and portraiture. Finding joy in silence, and beauty within nature, Katz pure and naturalistic research had a crucial role in the rebirth of figurative painting.  

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Born in Brooklyn, New York, from a Jewish family, Alex Katz began his artistic studies in the city before falling in love with painting while studying at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, in Skowhegan (Maine). In this particular setting, Katz developed a strong attraction towards painting from life, specifically towards the en plein air technique, a practice that will be crucial for the development of his own artistic style. While the rest of the art world was diving deep into abstraction and into the complexity of conceptualism, Alex Katz and a group of painters, known as the Maine painters, found love and empathy in the abandoned and forgotten settings of the american countryside. As the artist states himself, en plein air gave him “a reason to devote my life to painting”. Besides all of the aspects regarding the painter’s dialogue with nature and stillness, Katz became famous mostly for his extremely seductive and simplistic portraits, in which he was able to distance himself from his artistic references, and give voice to his own personal approach to the subjects. 

 

Alex Katz, Blue Umbrella 2, 2020. Pigment inks on paper.

 

“I like to make an image that is so simple you can't avoid it, and so complicated you can't figure it out”,

As a reaction to Abstract Expressionism, Alex Katz gave birth to a clear and distinctive resolution between formalism and representation, using his elegant and delicate colour palette to fill the flat and rendered surface of the canvas, enhancing his point of view and creating a stage for his everyday visual experience to break free. Throughout the years, Katz worked on simplifying both his compositions and the way he described the elements of his subjects’ faces, constantly trying to reduce the ammount of time spent on each painting, in order to experience freedom during his approach to the canvas. 

 

 Alex Katz, Ada, 2012. Oil on canvas.

 

“Realist painting has to do with leaving out a lot of detail. I think my painting can be a little shocking in all that it leaves out. But what happens is that the mind fills in what's missing. Painting is a way of making you see what I saw”

Overthinking and preconceptions are often limits that figurative painters have to overcome in order to create intimate compositions, in order to detach from past dogmas and experience the so called break-through. As Katz explains, freedom is often linked to acceptance, onesty and courage, which are all features that a mature painter should embody. 

 

Alex Katz, Coca Cola Girl 39, 2018. Oil on linen.

 

In the act of painting, one should let go off his chains and break free from meticolous planning, following instinct and emotions in order to achieve unprecedented liberty. As Alex Katz cleverly stated; one should always “paint faster than he can think”.

 

Alex Katz, Nicole, 2016. Pigment inks on fine art paper.

 

Cover image: Alex Katz, Coca Cola Girl 9, 2019. 26 colour silkscreen on fine art paper.

Written by Mario Rodolfo Silva

Stay Tuned on Kooness magazine for more exciting news from the art world.

 

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