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Alex Katz - Figure Painter of the New Realism Movement in Contemporary Art

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Rachael Peterson

Dec. 2, 2016

ARTS 1000-C

Final Project

Alex Katz is a leading figure painter of the new realism movement in contemporary art. He is best known for his realistic portraits of friends and family. Katz was born in New York City, and studied art at the Cooper Union from 1945 to 1949. Katz began exhibiting in the 1950s, emerging at a time when Abstract Expressionism was still the dominant force in American art (Alex Katz, Narrative Bio). Whilst his interests were firmly based in the previous generation of artists including Pollock, Rothko, Guston and De Kooning, his own painting developed in reaction to their work, and he is acknowledged as a hugely influential precursor to the Pop Art movement with which he became associated throughout the 1960s (Alex Katz, Narrative Bio).

Alex Katz's compositions are characterized by their levelness of shading and shape and their play of lines (Alex Katz: Give Me Tomorrow - Exhibition at Tate St Ives | Tate). Working with established topics of likeness, scene, figure thinks about, marine scenes and blossoms, huge numbers of Katz's works picture an ordinary America of simple living, relaxation and entertainment (Alex Katz Biography, Art, and Analysis of Works). Impacted as much by style, design and music as he is craftsmanship history, he remains an extremely established painter, working in the custom of European and American craftsmen like Manet, Matisse, and Hopper. Katz was never taken by the trend for Abstract Expressionism which gripped the generation of American artists before him, such as Rothko and Pollock. Though his work sometimes hints at Pop Art, he says he finds the whole question of labels a distraction. Katz's works bridge the gap between traditions of abstraction and figuration. For example, his art strengthens the lines, forms, hues, shapes, and his method, with the end goal that those elements become figurative ( Alex Katz Biography, Art, and Analysis of Works).

        Katz technique is interesting.  In the mornings, he would paint throughout the day.  It starts with an idea of what he thinks art should be.  Then, he finds something that correlates with it outside of himself.  If it is an action, he will make pen and ink sketches.  If it is something like a landscape, he goes from a sketch to a cartoon which he pains directly on to a canvas. (In Search of the "Big Technique": Alex Katz on Why Artists Should Stick to a Style in a Changing Art World)

        For his portraits, he makes a finished drawing from the sketch and call the model in later to correct.  He, then, enlarges to a cartoon and transfer it.  He mixes all the colors and picks out the brushes he needs to start painting when everything is prepared.  He normally takes three to six hours to a portrait. (In Search of the "Big Technique": Alex Katz on Why Artists Should Stick to a Style in a Changing Art World)

At the Art Museum, I saw Alex Kat’s painting called “Ada with a Black Scarf.” Alex Katz influenced me and my painting. It is his simplicity that I became attracted to. I was intrigued by the portrait I saw from him because it was so simple, yet deep.  It had a lot of light, which eliminated a lot of details and flattened the form out.  I was drawn to the face in the pointing because it had an attitude.  It was almost like an “I don’t give a sh**t attitude.” In one if his interviews I saw, he mentioned that he was tired of being hostile and being patronized.  He was tired of soft painting.  I love that!  It is like a in your face kind of painting, love it or hate it kind.  I, also, liked that the painting has fashion.  I can see why people from generation or most can relate to him.

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