Stamina Furnishes the Inspiration

Alex Katz, in the lineage of French masters, is intrigued by New Yorkers

Katz mainly concentrates on the aspirations of that segment of New Yorkers who are attractive, quasi-bohemian materialists. Katz paints them in their urban milieu or verdant summertime scenes out of town. Like his predecessors, Katz is a tough-minded poet and consummate professional with an intellectual energy that rivals the stamina of an athlete. Like his forebears, he continues to find interesting problems in his chosen specialty.

Katz’s landscapes are sometimes unpopulated. In “Alex Katz: Flowers and Landscapes,” a dozen of these very large paintings are on exhibition at the Pace Wildenstein Gallery. In “Roses on Blue,” the odd red shapes of the flowers rush at you like punchy kisses. The painting is emblematic of Katz’ inimitable New York aplomb that couples brute elegance with surprising sweetness. His surfaces are just brushy enough that the paint has a presence, a physical forthrightness that supports the slight, everyday aspect of the imagery.

This attachment to the passing moment touches on another unique Katz trait: though a straight man, he had no bones about adapting the casual, offhand sensibility of the primarily gay New York School of poets. This was in the macho 50s, a time when the dominant painting ethos tended to myth-mongering.

Downtown at Peter Blum Gallery an incidentally simultaneous exhibition of “Alex Katz: Cartoons,” drawings that were used to transfer an image to canvas, contains a group of works never intended for exhibition—Katz says he found them under his bed—that render the artist an old master. The sepia-toned dustings surrounding the linear figuration hearken back to Boucher’s charcoal and red chalk drawings, a show of which, incidentally, just opened at the Frick Museum.

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