Born in New York in 1927, Alex Katz is considered one of the most important exponents of American contemporary art. His familiar hallmarks are large formats, broad brush strokes, and vivid colors: his concerns are color and composition. He studied at the Cooper Union and the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in his early years. His works primarily consist of portraiture and landscape, often featuring New York City and Maine landscapes, as well as portraits of family members and prominent figures: one of his best-known subjects is his wife, Ada, portrayed in a large number of paintings and drawings. Becoming involved in the art scene at a young age, Katz’s oeuvre sits at the intersection of various art historical influences. However, after seeing Jackson Pollock’s expressive drip and Abstract Expressionist artist’s paintings of the 1950s take the art world by storm, Katz decided instead to forge his unique form of portrait painting: while presenting distinctly Pop iconography, Katz’s portraits also reflect non-Western traditions, citing Japanese art, most of all Kitagawa Utamaro’s portraits as a major influence on his oeuvre. Overall, his style expresses a quiet composition and a emotionally detached feeling, so much so that he has been labeled as the father of “Cool Painting.”
All his lifetime, he has been a very prolific artist, producing over 400 print editions and exhibiting in over 200 solo and 500 group shows internationally: he also admitted to destroying a thousand paintings during his first ten years to find his style. Since the 1950s, he worked to create art more freely because he tried to paint “faster than he could.” As a result, his works seem simple, but according to Katz, they are more reductive, fitting his personality. “The one thing I don’t want to do is things already done. As for particular subject matter; I don’t like narratives.”
Another quote of his regards his public acknowledgment: “I’ve been famous twice: once was not enough.” His recognition has gone through highs and lows. After achieving great public prominence in the late 1970s, his fame has gone progressively silent in the following decades until his major re-discovery in the last ten years. Today, Katz is one of the very few artists whose works can be seen in contexts such as the permanent collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York’s meatpacking district: one can, therefore, most decidedly view Katz as being among the “most contemporary” artists, as one of the most important pillars of an understanding of contemporary art. For his 95th birthday, the Albertina Museum in Wien is now running a comprehensive tribute to his work from the rich holdings of its collection up until May 29. Many of his works are also offered in the current major art auctions for record prices.