Alex Katz is an American figurative artist renowned for his simplified large-scale portraiture and landscape paintings. Today, art historians consider his distinctive type of realism, characterized by bold simplicity and vibrant colors, a precursor to Pop Art.
Katz was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1927. Heavily influenced by his parents and their interest in poetry and arts throughout his childhood, he pursued art growing up and eventually as a career. In 1946, Katz attended The Cooper Union Art School in Manhattan and learned Modern art theories and techniques. After graduating in 1949, he received a scholarship to study at the Skowhegan School for Painting and Sculpture in Maine. There he was exposed to painting from life rather than from other paintings. This exposure to the plein air painting style would be a seminal development of his career, practice, and artistic approach characterized by flatness, bright colors, and depictions of ordinary scenes and lived moments.
From 1955 to 1959, Katz created small collages of figures in landscapes, specifically scenes of New York and Maine. By the late 1950s, his interest in realism and portraiture manifested itself, and he began creating portraits of his friends and his wife and primary muse, Ada. Taking a cue from the visual culture found in films, television, and advertisements, especially billboard signs, Katz's work developed to include large-scale paintings with dramatically cropped faces in the early 1960s. His focus once again evolved in the 1970s when he embraced the social world of painters, poets, critics, and other acquaintances as his subject matter. In the 1980s, Katz embraced fashion and rendered portrait of models and others in designer clothing.
By the late 1980s and early 1990s, Katz returned to landscape painting once again. However, his works were now large and embraced a more painterly style. Throughout the 1990s and beginning of the twenty-first century, his paintings highlighted the effect of light on nature as a new focal point. The works created during this period typically showcased light falling through branches. Additionally, he painted large close-ups of induvial or clusters of flowers. At the start of 2010, Katz returned to portraiture utilizing more severe cropping and combined multiple cropped images alluding to filmstrips in his compositions.
Since 1951, Katz's work has exhibited in more than two hundred solo exhibitions and almost five hundred group exhibitions throughout the United States and abroad. Works by Alex Katz can be found in over a hundred public collections worldwide. Some notable American collections include those of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Brooklyn Museum, the Carnegie Museum of Art, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), The National Portrait Gallery of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art. Additionally, his work is part of the French National Collection, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Japan, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, the Saatchi Collection, and the Tate Modern.