WOW! – Work of the Week – Alex Katz – Wedding Dress



Alex Katz
Wedding Dress
1993
Etching Aquatint
52 x 22 in.
Edition of 50
Pencil signed and numbered


About the work:
Alex Katz’s body of work could be considered as a family photo album. Throughout his career, he has captured many moments depicting his friends and family, even his family dog, Sunny. As with any family photo album, some moments are ordinary and every day, but some are important life milestones.
This week’s Work of the Week! WOW! is Wedding Dress.
Wedding Dress is a work from 1993, and is one of the first portraits Alex Katz created of his daughter in law, Vivien. What is particularly interesting about this piece is his subject’s stance. There is an innocence in her body language, and an unawareness that she is being observed.
This is an atypical portrait. It is not posed or scripted. Alex Katz has captured a candid moment of his daughter is law’s wedding in a warm manner that leaves the viewer space to interpret the subject’s posture and determine her thoughts and emotions at the time.
The fact that Vivien is holding her hands behind her back is very significant. Initially, it is easy to associate the pose with shyness, especially since she is not looking upright. However, the act of holding her hands behind her back automatically exposes the full front of her body, indicating that her guard is down. She is displaying an ease and comfort in her surroundings. The serene feeling of her posture is accentuated by her head bowed slightly downwards and her eyes seemingly closed. That her eyes seem closed further attests to her comfort, she can retreat from the world to have a moment to herself, on her wedding day, a day that is traditionally centered on the bride.
Alex Katz captures the unique moment perfectly.
Through the many portraits that Alex Katz has created of Vivien, it is obvious that the pair have a very close relationship and that she is an integral part of the family. Many artists insert their life into their works, but none is as transparent as Katz, he truly let’s us in to be a part of his family’s most intimate moments.

 

WOW! – Work of the Week – Alex Katz – Laura 1





Alex Katz
Laura 1
2017
Archival pigment inks on Crane Museo Max 365 gsm fine art paper
46 x 30 1/2 in.
Edition of 100
Pencil signed and numbered

About the work:

Portraits are one of the great subjects of Alex Katz’s oeuvre. With his signature approach and style, he transforms his circle of family, friends and New York society figures into unforgettable icons. His works are defined by their flatness of color and form, their economy of line, and cool yet seductive emotional detachment. 

Katz is the ultimate master of the flat style. His works may appear simple, but rather they are complex studies of color and shading. A student of color theory, he expertly captures depth and dimension with contrasting and complimentary hues like no other artist. 

This week’s Work of the Week! WOW! is one of Katz’s most recent portraits, Laura 1. This work is the portrait of Laura Halzack, prima ballerina of the Paul Taylor Dance Company based in New York City. Alex Katz met Laura through Paul Taylor with whom he has collaborated with on over a dozen set and costume designs since 1960. 

Laura, as many of Katz’s portrait subjects is presented without context. In the compressed visual plane, she is placed against a background of a single dark hue, which contrasts with the delicate peach tone of her skin. No additional narrative is provided other than her first name. This lack of narrative heightens the enigmatic qualities of the dancer, and allows Laura to exist in and of herself. 

Influenced by film, television and billboard advertising, the composition of Laura 1 is like a cinematic close-up. The cropped view of the dancer’s profile is perfectly balanced with the black background. The work is cropped in a way that it seems Katz has captured a sincere, temporal moment, which he indeed has, given the ephemeral nature of dance. 

Katz’s distinction as an artist lies in the fascinating reductive, flat style. His mastery of color and minimalism is timeless. His portraits, also have a distinctive quality in that he always represents the society of which he is a part of and, as a whole, can almost be experienced as a family photo album. 

WOW – Work Of the Week – Alex Katz “Ariel”

Ariel

Alex Katz
Ariel
2016
Baked archival UV inks on shaped powder-coated aluminum
60 x 28 in.
Edition of 40

Engraved signed and numbered on the back of one of the figure

About This Work:

Alex Katz is an American painter of portraits and landscapes. He started working on these themes during years dominated by non-figurative art, which he always strongly avoided.
Living in New York City, since the 1950s Katz spends his summers in Maine, which has been his source of inspiration for many of his famous landscapes.

As for his portraits, the people he depicts are colleagues that surrounded him during his career, members of his family, friends or neighbors. Alex Katz’s portraits are always very recognizable. They are all characterized by an unmistakable flatness and lack of detail. Color and light play a central role in his works and the design of his pictorial reality always appears with sharp, clear edges.

Well known for his many portraits of his wife and muse, Ada, Katz has also dedicated himself to printmaking and freestanding sculptures of cutout figures painted on wood or aluminum. This is the case of this week’s Work Of the Week, Ariel.

Ariel is a three piece aluminum cut out set, created after a painting and a screenprint that he did in 2016 of the same name, that depicts a woman in three different perspectives in a sequence. This idea, the theme of variation, is very important to the artist. According to Katz, he was the first artist to start using the technique of repetition in his works, before the other artists of the time. He even says that Warhol took this concept from him. His studies on repetition start with a work called Ada Ada, which is one of his earliest work, and continue until today with this week’s Work Of the Week, Ariel.

One can see how Katz’s highly graphic depiction of his subjects adds a strong sense of individualized personality to his paintings, and his attention to details, particularly when it comes to fashion, firmly characterizes the work in his own unique aesthetic.

Alex Katz’ works convey a surprisingly seductive detachment from his emotions and personal references. For example, Ariel is a recurring subject in his most recent works. But who is Ariel? Is she someone relevant to the artist or is she only a model? The answer, in the end, is not important. These portraits do not own a clear narrative – it is not important for the viewer to know the person or the story behind the artwork. What Katz tries to emphasize is actually the beauty of the subjects. The use of gentle colors, the emphasis of fashion details in his paintings turn the coldness of the sharp lines, lack of detail and flatness into an artwork warm for the viewer to enjoy.

In many ways, both conceptually and technically, the art of Alex Katz can be considered to be the bridge that gaps the traditions of abstraction and figurative art.
It’s interesting to think about how Alex Katz’s simplistic, unique and utterly different style was able to rival the Abstract Expressionism at the height of its development. In fact, the painter was so sure of himself that he once famously stated the following: “As artists, we compete for audiences. I’m competing with the Abstract Expressionist guys. I’ll knock ‘em off the wall. If you put my work next to an aggressive A.E. painting, I’ll eat most of ‘em up“.

​Against all odds and alone with his style, Katz managed to achieve widespread critical acclaim and commercial success that only a handful of other 20th century artists have managed to obtain. Nowadays, Alex is still very active as an artist and plays the role of a conceptual guiding star to many younger generation artists.

WOW – Work Of the Week – Alex Katz “Dog At Duck Trap”

Dog at Duck Trap

Alex Katz
Dog At Duck Trap
1973 – 73
Lithograph
29 x 43 in.
Edition of 90

Pencil signed and numbered

About This Work:

Alex Katz is an American painter of portraits and landscapes. He started working on these themes during years dominated by non-figurative art, which he always strongly avoided.
Living in New York City, since the 1950’s Katz spends his summers in Maine, which has been his source of inspiration for many of his works.

He is mostly known for his portraits: the people he depicts are colleagues that surrounded him during his career, members of his family, friends or neighbors.
The works of Alex Katz are always very recognizable. They are all characterized by an unmistakable flatness and lack of detail. To represent a shadow or light, he uses  slight variations of colors. Many times, monochrome backgrounds represent another defining characteristic of his style.

These portraits do not own a clear narrative – it is not important for the viewer to know the story behind the artwork. What Katz tries to emphasize is actually the beauty of the subjects. The use of gentle colors and the emphasis of a few but significant details  turn the coldness of the sharp lines, lack of detail and flatness into an artwork warm for the viewer to enjoy.

The genius of Alex Katz’s style is derived directly from one of Katz’s biggest influences, the Master Japanese woodblock artist Kitagawa Utamaro (1753 – 1806), the master of Japanese woodblock color printing. His Japanese aesthetic is typically flat and bi-dimensional. He influenced Katz particularly with his use of partial views and his emphasis on light and shade.

This work, Dog At Duck Trap, it is slightly different from Katz’s portraits. This time, the subject is not a person but an animal.
This funny little Sky Terrier is Sunny, the Katz’s family dog, chest-high in coastal grasses. Sunny has been a subject of other works by Alex Katz too, exactly as the people who are depicted in his portraits. Sunny has been depicted in several different ways, but his muzzle always seems to convey a sense of happiness and carefreeness, like an endless summer.

Sunny is portrayed in a surrounding that is nothing but the coasts of the Duck Trap, a  river located in Waldo County, Maine, where Katz still spends his summers.
One can clearly see the blue of the water in the background, while all the natural environment is depicted in a very flat, lack-of-detail way, but still able to create a sense of dimensionality.

Alex Katz’s works can be found in over 100 public collections worldwide. Major exhibitions of Katz’s landscape and portrait painting in America and Europe followed his 1986 Whitney Museum of American Art retrospective and 1988 print retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum of Art.
He continues to spend his summers in Lincolnville, Maine.

WOW – Work Of the Week – Alex Katz “Julia And Alexandra”

Julia And Alexandra
 
ALEX KATZ
Julia And Alexandra
1983
Screenprint
37 x 74 in.
Edition of 75
Pencil signed and numbered

 

About This Work:

Alex Katz is an American painter of portraits and landscapes. He started working on these themes during years dominated by non-figurative art, which he always strongly avoided.
Living in New York City, since the 1950s Katz spends his summers in Maine, which has been his source of inspiration for many of his famous landscapes.
As for his portraits, the people he depicts are colleagues that surrounded him during his career, members of his family, friends or neighbors.

Alex Katz’s portraits are always very recognizable. They are all characterized by an unmistakable flatness and lack of detail. To represent a shadow or light, he uses  slight variations of colors. Many times, monochrome backgrounds represent another defining characteristic of his style.
These portraits do not own a clear narrative – it is not important for the viewer to know the person or the story behind the artwork. What Katz tries to emphasize is actually the beauty of the subjects. The use of gentle colors and the emphasis of fashion details in his paintings turn the coldness of the sharp lines, lack of detail and flatness into an artwork warm for the viewer to enjoy.

This work, Julia And Alexandra, represents a perfect example of Katz’s style. The flatness and lack of details are juxtaposed by the gradual shading of colors, creating a sense of dimensionality and a conceptual complexity. One important factor that makes his simplistic works more complex is the representation of fashion. It may seem minimal – a couple of lines for a necklace, some polka dots on a scarf – but these details of fashion are most important.

As we can see, in this particular work, Julia And Alexandra, Katz not only depicts this portrait in his unique style made of monochromatic colors, flatness and lack of details, but also ties them together with this unifying element of fashion. Despite their apparent simplicity, these details make the faces extremely expressive and perfectly capture the essence of the subjects.

It is this element of detail in his work that the artist has always been passionate about. His interest in fashion increased in 1960s, when he began designing sets and costumes for choreographer Paul Taylor as well as theater and dance shows. Costumes, hairstyles, glasses, clothes, shoes, scarves or bathing caps are meticulously considered, as well as the gaze of the subject and his/her position; whether sitting or standing.

The genius of Alex Katz’s style is derived directly from one of Katz’s biggest influences, the Master Japanese woodblock artist Kitagawa Utamaro (1753 – 1806). Utamaro’s woodcuts are in the Ukiyo-e tradition, which means “pictures of the floating world” and represent everyday life scenes, capturing a specific person or a particular moment.

Utamaro is one of the most highly regarded practitioners of the genre of woodblock prints. He is known for his portraits of beautiful women. This Japanese aesthetic is typically flat and bi-dimensional. He influenced Katz particularly with his use of partial views and his emphasis on light and shade.

As with all of Katz’s works, Julia And Alexandra definitely follows along the style and influence of Utamaro’s artworks.

Below are a few examples of Utamaro woodblock prints.

Takashima Ohisa using two mirrors to observe her coiffure

Takashima Ohisa Using Two Mirrors To Observe Her Coiffure

A Beauty After Her Bath

A Beauty After Her Bath