There’s going to be a show of Alex Katz’s work in London this Summer at the Serpentine. Gearing up for it, Alastair Sooke spent a little time with the 88-year-old artist. Sooke got a refreshing blast of Katz’s unabashed self-confidence and craftsman’s take on art history.
Here the two strands come together in a discussion of his wife Ada’s stature as a model and a beauty:
He compares her to Picasso’s famous lover and model, Dora Maar. “Dora Maar and Ada? Come on. I mean, they both have great faces. But Ada has a much better neck and shoulders. Picasso faked them – I saw this painting [of Maar], and I said: ‘That girl’s beautiful.’ Then I saw a photo of her and said: ‘Oh, he cheated on the shoulders.’ ”
Typically, the characters in Katz’s paintings are good-looking, smartly dressed and brightly lit, like models in a fashion shoot. They appear affluent, even if they are not: “Most of my paintings are of poor poets and painters,” Katz says. So why the perception that he paints only privilege and prosperity? He shrugs. “I record whatever’s in front of me,” he replies. “It’s the style that’s fancy.”
It’s not until Sooke starts unearthing Katz’s origin story that he gets to the painter’s legitimate claim that just had to be the headline:
Instead, Katz found inspiration in everyday commercial imagery, which he encountered on billboards, in the movies, on TV. Indeed, his paintings in the Fifties heralded Pop Art: years before the arrival of Warhol – who, he says, “ripped me off” – Katz was painting large, single figures, against monochrome backgrounds. “Somehow,” he says, “I got my paintings to look new.”
Alex Katz: ‘Warhol ripped me off’ (Telegraph)