Alex Katz: New Paintings and Sculptures
At a certain point in a career as long and accomplished as Alex Katz’s, one hopefully reckons to ask if that artist has begun to transcend themselves: where they become, in effect, “more themselves” (arguably a form of inner transcendence) or simply a representation of such. Katz, who’ll celebrate his 92nd birthday in July, has staked out a long settled stylistic position as a painter. Because of this, it could be said that he is only really answerable to his own mind.
He might easily abandon himself to the entitled caprice of “the master” or slide into solipsistic repetition of past innovation. Instead, in the eminently cool painterly poker game he’s played opposite himself for over 60 years, he’s constantly upped the ante on his “lucky” hand: his strategic success in capturing, in his words, “the immediate present” suffused with “quick light.”
His most recent show is split between figural work and landscapes. A series of dancing female nudes, set on a fairly consistent lime green background on the first floor of the gallery, represents what Katz has titled his “Homage to Degas” series (all dated 2018). It seems appropriate for the artist to reference Degas, in that his own depictions of figural groupings, like Degas’s, have tended to be set in oblique relation to the picture plane. Both Katz and Degas have shared an acute awareness of photographically inspired camera angles and cropping to heighten diagonal tension and lateral balance in their compositions.
Katz, however, is the more “classical” of the two in the sense that he has also often chosen the full frontal view, where the subject aligns, almost confrontationally, parallel with the picture plane. This flipping back and forth between the archaically tectonic and the photographically oblique has been one of Katz’s signature strategies for keeping his familiar representational object matter (mostly family, friends, lived- in landscapes) abstractly engaging and renewed.
In his depiction of nude female dancers he privileges the straight on approach, lending the series, taken as a whole, a frieze-like quality. For example, Homage to Degas 6 presents simultaneously as a stylistic quotation from both an 18th Dynasty Egyptian processional stele and the sequential progression of an Edward Muybridge photograph of human locomotion.