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

Julia And Alexandra
Julia And Alexandra
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


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