How was 2014 for Alex Katz?
How wraparound landscapes, billboards and regular gallery going all inspired the New York painter this year
We all know about Picasso’s blue period, or Warhol’s Death and Disaster paintings. Yet, there’s something especially thrilling about a living artist describing the changing nature of his own artistic temperament, as it happens.
With this in mind, we were especially pleased to speak with the New York painter Alex Katz, as part of our end-of-year round-up. In so doing, Alex offered us great insight into his own progression as he’s experienced it in 2014. Read on to find out why landscapes, billboards and TV screens have inspired him this year, and while next year we’re more likely to see him create some artfully collaged crowd scenes.
What was the thing that inspired you most this year?
“I work at different things at the same time. I’ve been doing a lot of ‘splits’, where one half of the canvas is a landscape and the other half is a face. I saw some split-screen images on TV, and thought I’d like to try something like this. I hadn’t done anything like that for thirty, forty years.
I’ve also been painting landscapes, though my pictures aren’t like conventional landscape paintings, they’re not a hole in the wall. My pictures are environmental; they wrap around you, you’re inside the landscape. I paint them in the country and in the city; it’s all the same. I don’t see any great difference. A tree can grow anywhere. Besides, it’s not scenic painting. They’re images that the audience has some relationship to. In terms of what I’m seeing in other painters' work, Marlene Dumas is painting real well, Peter Doig is doing great work, and Luc Tuymans is painting very well. I’m a regular gallery goer; I’m fairly well informed as to what’s going on.”
What was your personal working highlight this year?
"Seeing Tulips 4 in the Museum of Modern Art. It’s a painting that came from looking at a bunch of tulips, or more specifically, looking at the leaves. I made small sketches, then a small painting, maybe three feet by four feet; then a vertical, nine and a half by seven and a half. That turned out real good, so I made it bigger, ten by sixteen feet. The larger one came out really successfully. It often takes a while to work out whether a picture is any good or not. With a lot of paintings, I have no idea whether they’re good while I’m working on them, I only know when I’m finished. Ada, my wife, has a pretty good eye. She’s the first one to see the paintings, and I can tell by her reaction whether it’s good or not.”
What can we expect from you in 2015?
“Right now I’m working on a style of painting where I take people separately and put them into a painting, like a kind of collage. There are some advertising billboards near me that are working with the same ideas as I am. They have a white background and people in different places. It’s a little corny, though I did a painting a long time ago, back in the eighties, that was similar, and I didn’t follow up on it, so maybe I’ll start to follow up on it now.”