Alex Katz (born Brooklyn, New York, 1927) is one of the most important and respected living American artists with a career that spans over six decades. Give Me Tomorrow brings together paintings, oil studies, collages and a rarely exhibited cut-out, spanning the full breadth of Katz’s career from the 1950s to the present.
Katz’s bold paintings are defined by their flatness of colour and form, their economy of line and their cool but seductive emotional detachment. Using categories such as portraiture, land and seascape, figure studies and flowers, many of Katz’s works picture an everyday America in times of leisure and recreation. A recurring subject is Katz’s wife and muse Ada, whose iconic image has appeared in his work since the 1950s.
Influenced as much by style, film, poetry and music as by art history, Katz works in the tradition of European and American artists like Eduard Manet, Henri Matisse and Edward Hopper. He began exhibiting in the 1950s, when Abstract Expressionism was the dominant movement in American art led by figures such as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning. Katz admired these artists but rather than follow in their wake, he instead developed a contemporary figurative language combining the enlarged scale of American abstract painting with the bright colours and graphic style of advertising billboards. An influential precursor to Pop Art in the 1960s, Katz has famously said, ‘I wanted to make paintings you could hang up in Times Square’.
Today Alex Katz remains a prolific painter and an influential and important figure for generations of artists.
To accompany his exhibition, Alex Katz has made a personal selection of paintings from the Tate collection
, on show in the West Gallery.
Alex Katz is a collaboration with Tate St Ives
where the exhibition will be shown from 19 May – 23 September 2012.Exhibition catalogue - special offer save £5
An exhibition catalogue is available in our shop for just £15 (RRP £20).
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Many of the paintings in the Irene Willett Gallery date from the early years of Katz’s career in New York after leaving art school in 1949, when the city was the vibrant centre of international modern art.
Katz made New York’s poets, dancers, writers and artists his subjects. It was during this period that Katz first visited Maine on the east coast of the United States, where he fell in love with painting in the open air and the extraordinary New England light.
At this time, Katz was also absorbing the influence of American Abstract Expressionism, in particular Jackson Pollock, and visited exhibitions of European modern painters like Pierre Bonnard, Henri Matisse and Claude Monet. He also read the work of New York poets such as Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery and James Schuyler and discovered jazz music for the first time.
Although very much associated with urban Manhattan, Katz is also well known for his marine and beach paintings. The works in the North Gallery evoke the summers that Katz has spent out of the city with family and friends, on the beach and by the sea.
Katz often paints out of doors, working on small oil sketches which he will take back to his studios in Maine and New York to work up into larger paintings. Many of these include his wife Ada, who he first painted in 1957, or his son Vincent, who is shown in the 1975 painting Islesboro Ferry Slip.
At age 85 Katz remains as productive as ever, still working every day and making paintings on an extraordinary scale. Most of the works in the South Gallery were painted within the last three years and include two of his monumental water paintings in which the depiction of waves and reflections verges towards abstraction.
Katz has previously said that ‘water is like flowers; very few people can paint them well’.
The paintings in the West Gallery were selected by Alex Katz from the Tate collection to accompany his exhibitions at Tate St Ives and Turner Contemporary.
He was invited to take a closer look at the Tate collection and choose a group of works or artists that have been important to him over the years.
‘I mostly chose work that I wanted to look at. It wasn’t a question of selecting the best work or the best painting by that artist.’
Katz includes several nineteenth and twentieth-century paintings, as well as work by recent European contemporaries. For the exhibition at Turner Contemporary he has also selected a seascape by JMW Turner. Over the years, Katz has consistently looked to European traditions for inspiration as well as responding to his American peers.
'I’ve always liked the work of both Walter Sickert and William Nicholson. They’re highly civilised, but very good provincial painters. I’ve also got two paintings by Stubbs in there, I admire his sense of scale – and of course he was great at painting horses ... '
Given Katz's on-going series of flower paintings, it is not surprising that he has chosen a classic vase of flowers by one of his favourite artists: Henri Rousseau. As a child Katz’s only art book was a volume on Rousseau’s paintings.
Director of Tate St Ives Martin Clark went to Katz's New York studio to talk with the artist about how he broke away from the prevailing mood of Abstract Expressionism in the late 1950s to develop his energetic and colourful signature style that has influenced a generation of younger artists.
Read the interview here
On the opening day of Give Me Tomorrow
, Alex Katz talked to artist and broadcaster Matthew Collings in front of a live audience about his exhibition at Turner Contemporary. Watch the film at the bottom of this page.
See Alex Katz talk about his work in the Tate Shots film at the bottom of this page. This exhibition is a collaboration with Tate St Ives
, where the exhibition is on show until 23 September before travelling to Margate.