The first time I saw an Alex Katz painting was at an Art Basel Miami event nearly 10 years ago. I remember my first thoughts on the piece, I remember thinking: why would somebody use this type of figurative expression on such a large canvas and who had the audacity to turn a simple portrait into such a visually intriguing piece?
At first glance the canvas seemed to scream for attention but if you stuck around long enough, you realized the subject was pulling you in, which made me think that maybe that was Katz hidden intention. It was a mesmerizing portrait of a lady, a somebody whose story did not matter only the insinuating look on her face seemed to matter, almost as if she was talking to you with her eyes. Was Katz trying to transmit something through this lady’s eyes? You bet he was. You see… Alex Katz is not an artist that paints just because. There is always a purpose behind the subject. Even though Katz publicly expressed that “Subject matter is only important to the artist” I don’t buy it, I strongly believe that if an Artist has the ability to turn a simple portrait into an intriguing subject, we as spectators have the right to wonder about the subject matter, its connection to the artist, and the message being conveyed.
Coming from an artist who has admitted to destroying a thousand paintings during his first ten years as a painter in order to find his style, it’s no wonder he is so bold and outwardly about his style, subjects and technique. Katz uses a technique used by Renaissance artists called “pouncing” involving powdered pigment pushed through tiny perforations pricked into the surface to recreate the composition on the canvas to be painted. Its such a complex and amazing contrast, employing a technique used over five centuries ago to achieve the modern style we see in Alex Katz’ paintings today.
This Year, Art Basel Miami promises to be as colorful as ever with artists from all around the world. So if you’ve never been mesmerized by fine art before, go and be on the lookout for his paintings, unusually big portraits of faces that seem to stare you from any angle and yes feel free to get close to them if you dare.
See you at Art Basel.
by Alex I. Gerson