Eyes Closed espouses a monochromatic palette reminiscent of Renaissance sculpture, while the effervescent depiction of light further recalls the surface of stone and clay. Rendering his sitter in hues of grey and ivory, Katz adapts the size and scale associated with the Abstract Expressionism to create a monument of sorts. Moreover, Katz depicts his sitter in a profoundly private moment, perhaps asleep or deep in thought. Here, the complex interplay between the public and the private individual is at the forefront of this thought provoking portrait.
Katz draws upon mass media images of consumerism and from these sources emerge the flat areas of largely unmodulated colour, and the severe cropping of the image which distinguishes his idiosyncratic style. Despite comparisons to the sleek and commercial aesthetic of Pop art, Katz’s attachment to this group remains only tangential. The artist comments, “Pop art deals with signs, while my work deals with symbols. Pop art is cynical and ironic. My work is not. Those are big differences. Pop art is modern. My work is traditional” (Alex Katz in conversation with David Salle, in: Enzo Cucchi, Alex Katz: Unfamiliar Images, Milan 2002, p. 16).
For more than half a century Katz’s unique visual vernacular, commitment to figurative painting and cool aesthetic have set him apart from his contemporaries. Notably, scholars such as Eric de Chassey have credited Katz with reframing the discourse of modernism. De Chassey writes, “Katz was one of the first to show in a new way that the pictorial and the iconographic are conciliatory, as opposed to the dominant discourse of Modernism, which situates non-figuration as an historical necessity…” (Alex Katz, Vittoria Coen and Lisa Liebman, Eds., Alex Katz, Turin 1999, p. 212). It is for these reasons that Eyes Closed is a paradigm of Katz’s most celebrated artistic endeavours to date.
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