A New Yorker through and through, Alex Katz was born in 1927 to Russian immigrant parents in Brooklyn. He grew up in Queens and made his way to Manhattan, where since 1968 he has lived and worked in the same home and studio. In Artforum in 1998, Tom Breidenbach wrote of Katz’s approach as “genius in disguise,” for his deceptively cool, simple paintings are full of passion and strength. Though he began working in the 1950’s, when the prevailing opinion in the art world took figurative painting for dead, he has always made portraits and landscapes. By his own account, disrespect early in his career from abstract artists and the critics who hailed them only made him surer that he was making the art he wanted to make. When he was told at his first painting show that it was worthless to paint people and things, his portraits only got larger. Since then, Katz has shown nationally and internationally at nearly every museum in a major city in the world.
Alex Katz studied at the Cooper Union and the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine in the late ‘40s. He had his first solo show at the Roko Gallery in New York in 1954. Around this time, he began making prints. Though he has said he does not count his prints among his ‘mature’ work until Luna Park, which he made in 1965, it did not take long for his work on paper to rise to the sophisticated level of his paintings. In 1974, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York organized a show of his prints that later traveled to museums nationwide. “I don’t think there’s a quality difference between a painting, a drawing, a graphic, or a stage set,” he told Constance Lewallen at Crown Point Press in a 1990 interview. “They are all part of what I do. When you put your energy in a different place, you get something back. I paint almost like a printer—preconceived, in layers, color into color.” A true painter by nature, Katz will remember a certain shade of blue for decades until he finds the right subject to paint it into.
In 1994, the Cooper Union created the Alex Katz Visiting Chair in Painting with the endowment provided by the sale of ten of his paintings. His work is in the collections of many major museums, notably the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Frisia Museum in the Netherlands, the Centro de Arte Contemporaneo in Malaga, Spain, the Sammlung Frieder Burda in Baden-Baden, Germany, the National Gallery of Canada, the Hirshhorn Museum of Contemporary Art in Washington, D.C., and the Art Institute of Chicago. He is represented in New York by Robert Miller Gallery and PaceWildenstein.
- Rachel Lyon