Alex Katz
Birth Date: July 24, 1927

Artist Gallery
No one could ever accuse Alex Katz of having peaked too early. The painter-who refused to jump on the Abstract Expressionist bandwagon in the 1950s, instead concentrated on how to make figurative paintings in a new way. Katz found his core early on, while in art school. The son of Russian immigrants, he grew up in Queens, New York. Katz says he always like drawing but does not believe he was precocious- even though he did win a city contest at the age of seven for his garishly colored picture Monkeys in a Tree. He was schooled in modern art, mostly Cubism, at Cooper Union from 1946 to 1949, but discovered the way he wanted to work when he went to the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine and began painting landscapes outdoors. Katz did not want to make conventional paintings, and in the milieu of the New York avant-garde in the 1950s, second-generation Abstract Expressionist painting was conventional painting. He admired the innovators, like Pollock and de Kooning, but felt that to follow them would be derivative. He did borrow the monumental proportions of gestural painting, though, as he rejected a loose, brushy surface in favor of finished areas of heightened color that flattened out the portrait subjects he began depicting in 1957. His large-scale canvases, which could hold their own with the heft of abstraction, revolutionized what figure painting could look like. “Putting the specific likenesses on the flat background was a pretty aggressive position,” says Katz. “I always thought I was kind of mild, but when people push me, I push back. Most painters fold, but I just get more hostile and more ambitious.” Katz’s cool, clean surfaces came more in vogue in the 1960s, with the success of the Pop artist but unlike their work, his was always rooted in perception and painting from life. That has remained consistent over the decades as he has moved thematically from big cropped heads to multi-figure compositions, to blow-up flowers, to society and fashion pictures, to nocturnal cityscapes, to big landscapes.