Alex Katz began painting flowers as a challenge. Having just created some of his most-celebrated group portraits like The Cocktail Party (1965) and Lawn Party (1965), Katz turned to flowers as a way to capture a sense of movement that he felt was missing in his portraits. He made his first group of flower paintings from 1966-1967, and another in the early 2000s. In the past decade, Katz has returned to flowers regularly as he continues his seven-decade exploration of light and motion.
In his new flower paintings, the view is close up and the background is vast. Katz depicts flowers alone and in small groups, referencing the very first flower paintings he made in the 60s. However, these new paintings are made with an aggressive, deliberate simplicity that we’ve come to know in Katz’s most recent works. He has returned to these goldenrods, dogwoods, lilies and tulips each summer in Maine for over sixty years. At 92 years old, his lived experience and clear vision enables Katz to paint flowers unlike ever before. He gives us the essence of the flower, allowing us to see how he sees.
Although flower painting is normally a subcategory of still life, Katz's flowers are not typically still life. These are not cut flowers in a vase on a tabletop. Neither are they mere incidents in a landscape, but they are outdoor blooms, alive and growing. And the space in which they are growing is not domestically scaled space - not even that of a backyard garden. On the contrary, the space conjured by these paintings seems vast.
– Barry Schwabsky, "The Way Things Look: Alex Katz's Recent Work"
In a Katz painting, style—the way it’s painted—is the primary element. His confident, crisply articulated technique makes us see the world the way he sees it, clear and up close, with all but the most essential details pared away. Even today, Katz’s style is too stripped down for some people, who think it looks easy. “My work is like pablum to them,” he tells me. “You know, pretty girls, flowers, you can’t be serious. I refuse to make sincere art. Sincere art is art that relies on subject matter to carry it. An honest painter is one who doesn’t paint very well. And it shows!” (Another wide grin.) Katz, as critics have increasingly come to realize, is a very good painter.
– Calvin Tomkins, Alex Katz’s Life in Art, New Yorker, August 2018
One almost feels abashed for liking the work so much, for succumbing to endearments so visually primal, to a style so honored to its essence. Yet this seems to describe why we’re drawn to landscapes in the first place and why flowers seduce us all.
– Tom Breidenbach in his review of Alex Katz at PaceWildenstein, Artforum, December 2003
Films led to the big faces, and when you're looking at my big face paintings, it's like a movie. When you see a movie, the actual size is maybe 20 or 40 feet, but you still relate it to yourself and your scale, and that's what I was trying to do. Some monumental things, like Buddhas and Egyptian statues, are supposed to be big and not relate to your scale. So the problem was to take something really big and make it relate to you. The flower paintings were enormous blowups, but it took me about six months to get one to work on a big scale and seem like it was on your scale. Before that they seemed gargantuan. I was painting flowers and they all looked like Mount Everest, and all of a sudden I got one to work. And then they all worked after that.
– Alex Katz in “A conversation with Alex Katz, Hans Ulrich Obrist and Vincent Katz”
Extreme close-up, dramatic cropping, a flood of quietly dazzling light...Katz's flowers are Spectacular.
– Carter Ratcliff, “The Art of Alex Katz”
Like a lung that fills with air and empties itself out between breaths, the middle ground in some of Katz's works appears deep at one moment, blank the next. The way he paints the intervals between flowers, stems and petals, trees, trunks and leaves, gives you a sense of how vast the space between little things can become when beheld by a microscopic gaze, but also of how this depth disappears and looks like an opaque blotch once you step back from the canvas. This is the world as we live it, with eyes in motion and a mind that reaches out into space or homes in on something and holds it very close, seeking the soul in this material world.
– Jan Verwoert, “Lived Depth”
Alex Katz (b. 1927, Brooklyn, NY) is the preeminent painter of modern life. Acclaimed for his iconic portraits and impressionistic landscape depictions, the now 92-year-old Katz has inspired generations of painters.
Katz's work has been the subject of numerous retrospectives and solo presentations over the course of his encompassing career. His work is included in the permanent collections of over one hundred museums worldwide, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York; the Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C.; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; The Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art, Cornell Fine Arts Museum, Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Tate, London; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; el Museum Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid; and the National Galerie, Berlin.
Katz lives and works in New York. He was the 2019 Honoree at TWO x TWO for AIDS and Art. A survey of Katz's work is currently on view at Fosun Foundation, Shanghai. Upcoming exhibitions include solo presentations at Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Museum Voorlinden, and a retrospective at the Guggenheim.