Alex Katz at 91

Alex Katz

Katz at work in his studio. Photograph: Ali Smith.

“I was in the abstract art world, socially – they all thought I was really stupid. The poets all liked my work – I had some of the smartest people on the planet buying my work. I knew I was OK…

Rather than his fellow artists, Katz looked to poets for inspiration: Frank O’Hara (whose portrait he painted in 1959) and Gertrude Stein… “The language is beautiful. And the ideas are kind of impressive too. The thing with the present tense is the thing that I bought.” This has long been Katz’s ambition – to capture the fleeting moment, although not in what he considers the navel-gazing style of the French philosophers… “Camus – he’s depressed and can’t figure out what to do on a Sunday? I was like, ‘Oh,
come on’…”

[Katz’s] portraits are concerned primarily with surface energy, which he finds as meaningful as works that claim to unearth a “deeper” meaning. “When the dominant characteristic of a painting is called sincerity, that’s a bad sign. Sincere painting means it relies on things outside of the painting. ‘Sincere art’ – as if painting pretty people isn’t. Well, it depends who does it.”

(Emma Brockes, “Alex Katz: ‘The smartest people bought my work,'” The Guardian, 10-29-18)

(c) 2018 JMN.

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day, and watch Netflix and Prime Video for entertainment. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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5 Responses to Alex Katz at 91

  1. Eric Wayne says:

    I’m with him on finding more sustenance in another field, at a particular time. I certainly prefer the music scene of the 70’s to the art scene. One’s sensibility may or may not be inline with whatever is in fashion with ones particular discipline. I consider the current art obsessions with politics and race cancerous.

    “Sincere painting means it relies on things outside of the painting. ‘Sincere art’ – as if painting pretty people isn’t. Well, it depends who does it.”

    Sounds convincing at first, but, something can be sincere and superficial. The question isn’t sincerity, but superficiality. The accusation that his work is all on the surface is that if lacks depth, not that it isn’t honestly frivolous.

    I think Wayne Theibald or David Hockney may be better examples than Katz in terms of transcending the apparent mere surface-ness of their art, sometimes. To me Katz’ paintings look like potentially really good New Yorker covers. I might be impressed if I saw a bunch of his work in person, but I fear it might be momentary, for the technique, bu that I might be at least equally impressed by there not being all that much there. I’ll suspend judgement until I have an opportunity to really look at his work.

    • JMN says:

      I love your phrase “honestly frivolous”! I think a lot of my blogging strives for that very quality. 🙂 I had never heard of Katz. He comes across in the interview as a cocky, jaunty fellow at 92. I admired his self-confidence, something I lack. The glimpses of his paintings in the article didn’t do much for me either. Your analogy to New Yorker covers is an apt one. I like Hockney a lot, must investigate Theibald, not familiar with his work.

      • Eric Wayne says:

        Thiebald is famous for impasto paintings of pastries. But his best stuff, by me, I think, are his paintings of freeways.

        I’m glad an occasional phrase of mine appeals to you. Your writing skill far outshines mine. My last two posts had no literary frills or fanfare. Lately I just say things plainly, less out of some commitment, but rather out of just not feeling at all eloquent.

        About Katz. Well, he’s not that bad, and I gotta’ give him lots of credit for sticking to it at 92. He’s got 40 years on me, and I’m worrying about ten years from now.

      • JMN says:

        Pastries, yes! Now I recall having seen some of Thiebald’s work and admired it. Impasto done well is so seductive. You do it digitally, which is amazing. Thank you for the compliment. I believe strongly that speaking and writing plainly is good style. I don’t always achieve it, I have a weakness for silliness. The narrative you do for your conceptual art video is polished and effective. By the way, I’ve seen work by an artist who paints cheeses. Could that be Thiebald also?

      • Eric Wayne says:

        Probably. He’s done a lot of cheese paintings.

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