Alex Katz

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Alex Katz is a renowned American painter, best known for his figurative style, and his huge canvases that brought to life the simple and regular life events of family and friends. His work contains some of the iconic and best known depictions of American lifestyle as well as American scenic beauty through his famous landscapes.

Alex Katz was born on July 4, 1927 in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. His parents were both Russian immigrants, his father was a businessman while his mother had been an actress in the days of her glorious youth. Alex was raised in St. Albans, Queens, and from an early age, Alex exhibited a profound appreciation for art and architecture along with a natural talent for painting. His father, who had a profound appreciation for art and architecture himself, and frequented the prominent circles of painters along with being the proud collector of several famous Russian abstract paintings, supported and encouraged his artistic ambitions. His mother, on the other hand, had her reservations about her son’s choice to become a painter, as she was aware of the struggle an artist has to face in the practical world.

However, encouraged by his father’s support and fuelled by his passion for art, Alex chose to purse an education in art at the Woodrow Wilson High School, where he enrolled in a program that allowed him to study art along with his necessary academic subjects such as advertising design. At the Woodrow Wilson High School, Alex’s interests were piqued by sketching antique casts.

In 1945, Alex was drafted in to the armed forces, and he served the navy for one year. He returned to New York in 1946, and immediately went about making arrangements to continue pursuing his artistic education. He appeared in the entrance test for the prestigious Cooper Union, and against his negative expectations, he gained admission into the institution. In the beginning, Alex faced immense trouble settling in the competitive environment of Cooper Union and the grueling curriculum. However, after studying with notable instructors such as Paul Zucker, Robert Gwathmey and Morris Kantor, who influenced and inspired his aesthetic sense and artistic style, Alex began to enjoy the learning opportunities provided by the institute. He intended to concentrate on commercial art and modern style of illustration, however, his interests were piqued by art history and painting, and he began to devote his time to painting perfectly composed and contoured large-scale canvases.

In 1949, Alex was offered a scholarship for a summer program at the Skowhegan School of Art. Hence, he moved to Maine and began attending the summer program. He devoted all his efforts and time to perfecting his style and technique as a landscape artist. He studied the art of plein air painting with renowned instructor, Henry Varnum Poor. In 1950, Alex moved back to Manhattan and began his professional career as an artist.

During the 1950s, Abstract Expressionism was all the rage in the artistic circles of New York, and Alex Katz, along with many other famous painters, struggled to express their artistic talent in the surging tide of this reigning trend. Katz’s paintings depicted large trees against exuberantly lit backgrounds that gave an intense energy and concept to the landscape. Some of his works were portraits of his wife, Ada, and with the exception of a few, all were painted against simple, monotonic and flat colored backgrounds.

In 1954, he showcased his work in his first solo exhibition at the Roko Gallery. Soon, he collaborated with artist Lois Dodd, and showcased his work in an exhibition held at the Tanager Gallery, located on the 10th Street. Four Children and Ada in the Water are two of his most iconic works from this period.

During the 1960s, Katz began experimenting with collage and cut-out figures, and the size of his canvases began to grow larger and larger and he worked on a number of multi-paneled paintings in this period. Several of his works, particularly lithographs and screen prints, produced in this period are celebrated as significant contributions to the Print Renaissance that took rise in the 1960s. In 1986, the Whitney Museum of American Art presented him with his first museum retrospective.

During the 1990s, Katz art began to focus on the simple and tiniest details of nature that commonly escape the eye, for instance, flower petals, light flickering on the water, leaves, and shadows. He donated much of his art work to the Colby College Museum of Art, Waterville, Maine. An entire wing of the Museum has been dedicated to Katz’s work.

He currently resides in Soho, in the same home studio where he has lived and worked since 1968.

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