Robert Storr, Exh. Cat., New York, The Jewish Museum, Alex Katz Paints Ada, 2006, p. 1
Calm, assured and poised, the women in Alex Katz’s paintings epitomize the underpinning nostalgia and slick figuration that are the essence of his oeuvre. Central to his body of work from the start of his career, Katz’s female subjects oscillate between the generic and the specific, inviting recognition and providing a foundation for the artist’s exploration of memory and perception. Study for Good Afternoon I, Ada, and Study for Ace Airport uphold this artistic legacy; Katz’s female subjects envelop the world around them in a pristine stillness, projecting a vibrant interiority, and allow for the artist to fully explore his unique synthesis of style, form, and subject.
Born in Brooklyn in 1927, and educated at The Cooper Union and Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Katz had settled on figuration as the primary focus of his artistic output from the beginning of his career. Emerging in the New York art world of the 1950s, which was dominated by the greats of Abstract Expressionism, Katz boldly forged his own path, eschewing the passion and primacy of gesture inherent to abstraction, in order to craft flat, polished scenes, awash in fields of color that captured the sensation of lived experience.
The artist’s recurring subjects, anchored by the women in his social circle, and in particular, his wife Ada, have come to embody and signify his revolutionary stylistic inroad in art history. In Study for Ace Airport the eponymous subjects stand close together, partially obscuring an airplane which is parked in a bucolic airfield. Though the space around them is fully articulated, no recognizable landmarks demarcate where they are in the world. Their bodies are slightly tilted from the axis of the picture plane, giving the composition the appearance of a candid snapshot, which combined with their generic depictions, mimes the qualities of haziness and familiarity inherent to memory. In Study for Good Afternoon I, Katz heightens this nostalgic aura; as his subject emerges from a vibrant field of blue—bisecting the composition and recalling the expansive works of Barnett Newman—the world around her utterly washes away. Without abandoning his reference to abstraction, Katz brings the composition into the realm of representation by including his subject’s boat’s reflection in the water. Using the same pictorial strategies but engaging them through an opposite approach, Ada hones in on its subject: she dominates the picture plane, boldly staring out beyond the borders of the frame, and emanating with tranquil serenity. Despite his varying approaches, Katz’s female subjects, and his style are the dominant forces in shaping his compositions. Pivotal to the development of the artist’s singular and all-encompassing artistic mode, Katz’s portraits of women are exemplary of the painter at his best: self-possessed and confident enough to quiet the world around them, and let the viewer in.
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.