EST. 2009

June 26, 2014

That Immediate Present

THEY ARE ALL BEAUTIFUL, FASHIONABLE and appear to all belong to the same beautiful, fashionable sphere that is the work of Alex Katz. "Bucolic" was a word used by Barbaralee Diamondstein-Spoelvogel in an interview with the artist, in describing his smooth, "wrinkle-free" subjects. In response, Katz explained that his style and subject matter have mainly to do with portraying the immediate present. And to Katz, that immediate present normally consists of his immediate social circles: a milieu of poets, critics and other art world colleagues.

While his large body of work includes landscapes and groups of figures, prominent in Katz's work are portraits of women. Rendered in striking color and cropping, Katz depicts his subjects in a way that he describes as both "aggressive" and "life-sized". Seemingly strong a word for such delicate-looking characters, the portraits can indeed be aggressive, commanding attention even when juxtaposed with larger paintings of varying subject matter. "You wanna burn the image in someone's head." Katz comments in a 2009 feature by the Smithsonian. Indeed, billboards attract and distract in the exact same way. As for the portraits being life-sized, Katz considers the term to be relative. A person could be standing inches from you and they look large. Meters from you, and while still life-sized, they could appear very small. The idea always goes back to appearance and the sensations of the immediate present; themes that have provided Katz his signature style and subject matter through an illustrious 60-year career.

Personally appealing to me too of Katz's work is the notable degree of fashion incorporated into the pictures. There is much attention paid to the women's outfits, their hairstyles, their headwear. Even makeup seems to not have been left out, albeit the subjects' faces appear clean and natural. Having always been a fan of illustrators like Jordi Labanda and Bo Lundberg, whose images portray a similar simplicity, luxury and emotional detachment, it is only natural that I be drawn to Katz's art.

On an interview with Artnet in 2011, the now 86-year-old Katz described his audience to have been "increasing a lot in the last 10 years." As it happens, it was on Pinterest that I discovered his work, a portrait entitled Eli's Friend, occupying a frame amongst other Pins no wider than a fifth of the screen. It looked hardly life-sized but it was aggressive. It was love at first Pin.

Blue Umbrella, Sarah, The Orange Band, Song, Alba, Black Scarf and Julia and Alexandra by Alex Katz, all images from


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