Alex Katz brings cinematic glamour to the Swiss Alps
A selection of works by American figurative artist Alex Katz is currently exhibited at Patricia Low Contemporary in Gstaad. Drawn from the past 21 years, the works precis a career spanning seven decades which has seen Katz paint portraits, landscapes, architectural and social scenes drawn from his immediate environment and social milieu, not forgetting his set design and printmaking.
Katz came to prominence in the early 1950s with a solo show at the Roko Gallery in New York. Several years later in pursuit of a greater realism in his work, the artist turned increasingly towards portraiture, painting friends and family including wife and muse Ada. At the same time, his monochrome backgrounds emerged in anticipation of a new Pop Art aesthetic, marking a move away from other gestural figurative painters and defining a simplistic signature style which has remained with him to this day.
Several large scale works are on view at the gallery. The lithe portrait of ‘Ariel’ posing in bathing suit and sunhat against a saffron background encapsulates an alluring sense of hazy, coastal summer days, its lightness contrasting with ‘Eleanor’ a striking, cropped portrait of a golden-haired girl, head angled sideways set against black. Together with the bobbed portrait of ‘Vivien’, they engagingly capture the nostalgia of the photogenic East Coast set and from these bold, cinematic stills, it’s down to the viewer to imagine the rest of the movie script.
In 1959 Katz made his first painted cutout, initially from canvas mounted onto wood then later painting directly onto aluminium sheeting. It’s a practice that has stayed with him throughout his career. Harking back to the 1980s when he turned to fashion models in designer clothing for inspiration, these quasi-sculptural works are represented in Gstaad by the whimsical ‘Black Dress’ from 2018, an elegant catwalk of coquettish fashion mannequins in Little Black Dresses which would most certainly have Coco Chanel applauding her approval from above. There’s also a singular figure of Ada atop a white bronze plinth which gives depth and perspective to the gallery setting, both works hinting at the artists eye for sculptural design.
Katz has remained true to his original commitment to ‘paint in the present tense’, capturing scenes from the quotidian here and now. Having famously worked en plein air, from photographs, sketches and preparatory drawings, the 91-year old artist has latterly used an iPhone to capture images, bringing static scenes to life through the medium of paint.
‘Three Trees’ oil on linen is a quintessential Katz landscape on view, showing a greater painterliness as seen during the 1990s in his allover canvases and one which entirely immerses the viewer in its woodland environment. This large scale piece is supported by a smaller work of the same subject and of some thirty pieces presented, it’s the informal studies in pencil, charcoal and oil which offer a more perceptive understanding of the artistic process.
As the artist juxtaposes his portraits against bold backdrops, so the unique alpine setting of Gstaad presents an elegant contrast with Katz’ casual, enduring, transatlantic oeuvre.
Alex Katz at Patricia Low Contemporary until 10 February 2019
For more information go to www.patricialow.com
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