Alex Katz – painter of the modern age

By the time Alex Katz finished his art studies at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Skowhegan, Maine, the art world began to develop more rapidly than ever before. Artists like Jackson Pollock – known for his action paintings – caused a sensation. Abstract Expressionism was born, and if there was perhaps a common denominator in this art world, it was that figurative painting was not exactly hip.

At first glance, Katz’s painting seems relatively banal. At times, it reminds one of high school students who carefully re-color portraits drawn in pencil in art classes. Indeed, one of the most striking features is the flat application of paint. Wet on wet – the colours are already mixed on the palette, the colours are applied. But while a flat application of paint in a Matisse becomes surfaces competing for the depth of the picture, Katz’s painting remains unagitatedly two-dimensional. It is moments of the American middle class of the 50s and 60s of the last century that interest Katz. The story of the subject before and after the painted moment has to emerge in the viewer’s mind.

At the latest when the motifs approach the growing influence of film and advertising, parallels to other art movements such as Pop Art become noticeable.

But Katz is more a painter than a conceptionist, and part of his painting style is simply due to the desire to be able to act quickly. Painting in several layers of paint is simply not predestined to capture moments.

Impressively clear, beautiful, simple and yet completely removed and introverted. This melancholic red thread runs through his complete work despite the clarity of the colours. And this mastered contradiction makes him for me a credible artist of the 20th century.

Tobias Vetter