Coming of age as an artist in 1950s New York, Katz developed his unique approach to contemporary representational painting during the height of Abstract Expressionism.
Over the five and a half decades since his first exhibition in 1954, Katz has produced a celebrated body of work, including paintings, drawings, sculpture and prints. Establishing himself as a pre-eminent painter of modern life, he was influenced by films, billboard advertising, music, poetry and his close circle of friends and family. His portraits and landscapes are characterised by their flatness of colour and fluidity of line, reinventing both genres within the context of abstract painting and contemporary image-making.
The Serpentine exhibition took landscape as its focus, bringing together Katz’s extraordinarily productive output of recent years alongside select works from the past two decades. Katz’s landscape paintings exemplify his life-long quest to capture the present tense in paint. Regardless of their scale, Katz describes these paintings as ‘environmental’ in the way in which they envelop the viewer. Defined by temporal qualities of light, times of the day and the changing of the seasons, these paintings responded and related to the unique context of the Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens. The exhibition also included a recent series of portraits.
Installed outside the Serpentine Gallery Ada, (wind vane) is a flat sculpture which is part of Alex Katz’s ‘cut-outs’ – a body of work that dates back to 1959 when he began to cut out figures from his paintings to emphasise the two-dimensionality of painting. The sculpture is a functioning wind vane and a freestanding portrait of the artist’s wife and life-long muse, Ada, who is the subject of many of his works, including a painting in the exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery. Inspired by billboard advertising and the experience of going to the cinema, Katz characteristically employs an oversized format in his painted and sculptural portraits in order to play with the viewer’s sense of scale. This sculpture expanded the exhibition Quick Light beyond the walls of the Gallery connecting Katz’s work with the Serpentine’s parkland surroundings.
Katz draws parallels between his approach to painting and his interest in poetry, both equally concerned with stripping away unnecessary detail to leave only the essential information. This relationship between language and the painting process was echoed in the work of painter, poet and filmmaker Etel Adnan, shown in parallel at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery, whose landscapes are similarly defined by their bold colour and simplified form that is nevertheless rooted in keen observation of the world around her.