Alex Katz is a leading figure painter of the new realism movement in contemporary art. He is best known for his realistic portraits of friends and family, notable for their relaxed attitudes and uncomplicated bearing.
Katz was born in New York City, and studied art at the Cooper Union from 1945 to 1949. In the late 1950s, he found himself among a growing number of artists dissatisfied with the then-dominant stream of abstract expressionism, with its emphasis on formal abstraction.
The rebellion against abstract expressionism, which continued through the 1960s, took several forms. The most celebrated was the pop art of Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg and others, who sought to mine the motherlodes of media imagery and consumer culture for the content of their art.
In contrast to the pop artists, with their emphasis on the consumer icon, a number of painters in the mid-to-late 1 950s, including Larry Rivers and Alex Katz, had begun to find their own inspiration. in the literal rendition of human figures.
Katz’s paintings from the late 1950s to the present have been characterized by such literal, yet expressive, portrayals of human figures. Stylistically, his figures are simplified in form, but not caricatured or rendered grotesque. On the contrary, one of the hallmarks of Katz’s figures is their apparent normalcy.
Katz’s figures are typically presented at close range from a frontal perspective, and in a flattened manner somewhat suggestive of a Polaroid snapshot.
Filling up the spaces of his canvases, his figures address the viewer head-on, creating a sense of familiarity reinforced by the subjects’ relaxed attitudes.
Katz taught painting throughout the 1 960s at such institutions as the Pratt Institute, the School of the Visual Arts in New York, and the New York Studio School. He designed stage sets and costumes for the Paul Taylor Dance Company at the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto in 1960 and 1964.
In the 1970s, his paintings have been highly influential to the development and popularization of the new realism as a discrete movement in contemporary art.