art for everyone. every monday morning.
 
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Alex Katz • American: B: 1927

Polka Dot BlouseSerigraph on Paper 30” x 22”

Even on a seven-hour drive, Alex Katz won’t put his sports car in cruise control. He can’t take his foot off the gas. Such has been the life of the 92-year-old Energizer Bunny. It’s why he still drives from SoHo to Maine every summer to paint landscapes. Despite being an all-star, he still works like a rookie trying to make the team.

As he drives up I-95 gazing out at the Atlantic Ocean, his mind begins to wander. He remembers his brother looking into his room as a child in Queens. “Mom, why is Alex painting the backs of heads?” His mother’s response: “Everyone else is painting faces. You know Alex, he always has to be ahead of everybody.” Katz’s mother understood how her son’s brain worked. It took the art world a bit longer. But, his desire to zig when others zagged is what has kept him on the road all these years.

Following his studies at the Cooper Union in New York and the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine, Katz entered into a universe dominated by abstract expressionists. He decided to swerve. It’s not in his DNA to go the same route as everyone else. “I always want to do something new. It’s instinctive for me.” 

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What he came up with is an original, but misunderstood style. His artwork is representational, but not Realism. It’s modern, but not Abstract Expressionism. “I’m doing what I want to do and I’m doing it flat out.”

He’s most known for his figurative paintings that look a bit like Pop Art, without quite as much pop. He eliminates excessive details and emotion from his subjects, instead opting for deceptively simple, flat images over monochrome backgrounds. It’s a style on display in Polka Dot Blouse at the Canton Museum of Art – a four-piece portrait series featuring his wife Ada.

Katz’s distinct style didn’t catch on in the 1950s. That’s the risk you take when you get too far ahead of the curve. Today, Katz is a recipient of major art awards and has paintings on display in some of the finest museums in the world. In 1977 he was selected to create a series of 23 billboard-sized portraits of women to hang high above Times Square. It became one of the most recognizable works of modern art in American history. Even so, he doesn’t feel like he has reached his full potential as an artist. “I’m restless and if I don’t take risks I just get bored and disgusted with myself. You’ve got to take chances to see how good you really are.” 

Buckle up. Alex Katz is still in the fast lane.

Canton Museum of Art Permanent Collection • Margretta Bockius Wilson Fund, Canton Museum of Art 82.8.1-.4

 
 

4 Ways to Sound Smart When Viewing at The Canton Museum of Art


1.
Even at 92, he still starts each morning with 300 push-ups and 400 sit-ups. Who knew painters were in such great shape?”

2.
“He’s painted over 250 portraits of his wife Ada during his career. Smooth move, Katz.”

3.
“The largest piece he’s ever done is a 247-foot-long billboard in Times Square with 23 women’s heads on it. That’s wild.”

4.
“Katz once said, ‘the one thing I don’t want to do is things already done.’ On that note, let’s go somewhere new for dinner tonight, honey.”


 
 

Katz Timeline. Scroll over images to see timeline.