Alex Katz turned ninety years old this year. Yet despite an age that would slow most people down, he seems as if he’s just getting started with this inspiring show of paintings whose ease of composition and masterful use of color are simply a joy to look at.
The exhibition consists of twenty large-scale works completed over the past two years. While the landscapes, cityscapes and portraits that make up the show are familiar themes for Katz, these new paintings show an artist who has perfected his use of line and color. Pared-down renderings of places and people, such as his wife Ada or the landscape near his house in Maine, explore subjects he has returned to throughout his career, and to which he has intimate connections. With cream-colored trousers, blue T-shirt and comically tall farmer’s hat, set against a dark-green background, Ada (2016) is a character we may have seen before, and exudes a perfectly balanced symphony of paint and image.
Because so much of what Katz paints is caught up in his private history, viewing these works can be like reading an intimate diary. But like any good diary, a lot is left to the imagination. Take Cityscape 3 (2017), a painting of a church with a small cross at the roof’s apex and neighboring building, with wispy clouds in the blue sky behind them. This scene could be from Manhattan, rural Ohio or a million miles away. And while the simple, unadorned building is a trope that Katz has returned to again and again, he makes it feel fresh and effortless. The pleasure of viewing a Katz painting stems in part from its use of color and composition: the hues are so perfectly matched that you wonder if any other combination would be as effective, while the way the lines and brushstrokes work within the pictorial plane deliver just the right amount of ambiguity — teasing the universal out of the personal. With these new works, it seems as though Katz’s hands have directly translated the subject of the artist’s gaze into a Katzian take on reality, where the familiar is turned into something mysterious yet intimate — like an old friend who teaches you something new every day.