Pic­ture per­fect

Amer­i­can fig­u­ra­tive artist is draw­ing at­ten­tion in Shang­hai

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By LIN QI in Shang­hai

At 89, Amer­i­can fig­u­ra­tive artist Alex Katz is ac­tive and work­ing. He paints ev­ery day in his home-stu­dio, the top floor of an artists’ co­op­er­a­tive build­ing in SoHo, New York, where he moved in 1968.

There, he also does pushups, situps and stretch­ing.

He swims for half an hour ev­ery day in the sum­mer.

The ex­er­cises help him to paint for hours on a can­vas sev­eral me­ters in length and height.

In a con­ver­sa­tion with Swiss art cu­ra­tor Hans-Ul­rich Obrist in Lon­don, in 2012, Katz said he took to art be­cause for him it is some­thing that ge­niuses did.

“I had very lit­tle tal­ent, ... I didn’t think of be­com­ing a se­ri­ous artist un­til af­ter I had fin­ished art school. Then I said, ‘Let’s go for it!’”

Nine of Katz’s large-scale paint­ings, mea­sur­ing 2 to 5 me­ters in length, are now on show at his solo ex­hi­bi­tion in Shang­hai.

It is be­ing pre­sented by the Lon­don-based Ti­mothy Tay­lor Gallery, which rep­re­sents Katz in Bri­tain, at an ex­hi­bi­tion space of the West Bund Art & Cul­ture Pi­lot Zone.

The ex­hi­bi­tion, West Broad­way and Spring, which opened on Mon­day and runs through Sun­day, fea­tures Katz’s por­traits of fam­i­lies and friends and still-life works of flow­ers that he pur­chases from New York’s street ven­dors.

The ex­hi­bi­tion is named af­ter the two streets at the in­ter­sec­tion of which his stu­dio is lo­cated.

His land­scapes on dis­play are based on his vis­ual ex­pe­ri­ences of ur­ban and ru­ral lo­ca­tions.

A na­tive ofNewYork, Katz mostly lives there, which means “pri­vacy” for him, he tells China Daily in an e-mail in­ter­view.

He spends his sum­mers in Lin­col­nville, Maine, which draws him be­cause “it is beau­ti­ful and no one is around”.

Al­though he’s not vis­it­ing Shang­hai for the ex­hi­bi­tion, Katz com­mu­ni­cates with his au­di­ence through his works, in which he em­braces a flat, mono­chrome back­ground, re­duc­tive de­tail­ing and en­hanced col­or­ing.

His defin­ing style is an “Oriental calm” as his friend and col­lec­tor Frank O’Hara de­scribes it, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to pi­geon­hole Katz into any post-war art move­ment in the United States.

Some peo­ple as­so­ciate his can­vases with fig­ures in the pop art move­ment such as AndyWarhol.

And, co­in­ci­den­tally, an on­go­ing ex­hi­bi­tion at the Yuz Mu­seum, also in Shang­hai’sWest Bund area, is now dis­play­ing Warhol’s Shad­ows se­ries of paint­ings.

Through the two shows one can get a bet­ter idea of how Katz be­came one of the pre­cur­sors of pop art that emerged in the late 1950s.

He was quoted as say­ing in a Septem­ber in­ter­view to a San Fran­cisco news­pa­per that lots of peo­ple have been in­flu­enced by him. “It’s a pos­i­tive thing. It’s use­ful. Andy (Warhol) took it and made it into great graphic art.”

Katz’s works are in the col­lec­tions of sev­eral top mu­se­ums around the world, such as New York’sMu­seum of Mod­ern Art and Paris’ Cen­tre Pom­pi­dou. He has an art foun­da­tion named af­ter him that sup­ports young artists, es­pe­cially those aged be­tween 25 and 30, which he thinks is the most dif­fi­cult pe­riod in one’s ca­reer.

His ad­vice to young artists is sim­ple: “Keep reg­u­lar hours and paint a lot.”

He says he threw away hun­dreds of paint­ings in the early stages of his ca­reer to im­prove his work.

The Katz ex­hi­bi­tion is the lat­est in a se­ries of ef­forts by Ti­mothy Tay­lor to reach to “a dis­cern­ing au­di­ence” in China, ac­cord­ing to Kate Wong, the gallery’s as­so­ciate direc­tor.

Be­fore the lat­est ex­hi­bi­tion, Ti­moth­yTay­lor brought the work of Ir­ish-Amer­i­can ab­stract artist Sean Scully to the coun­try.

It also rep­re­sents Shang­hai-born ab­stract artist Ding Yi in Bri­tain, the first Chi­nese artist it is work­ing with.

Ti­mothy Tay­lor will also par­tic­i­pate in the West Bund Art & De­sign Expo that runs from Wed­nes­day to Sun­day.

Wong says the gallery’s re­la­tion­ship with China has just be­gun and that they are “in­cred­i­bly in­vig­o­rated” by the coun­try’s con­tem­po­rary art scene.

“Through the great re­la­tion­ships we have al­ready es­tab­lished, we will re­spond to this ex­ist­ing con­tem­po­rary di­a­logue by bring­ing an ex­cit­ing, di­verse and rel­e­vant group of in­ter­na­tional artists to China,” she says.


Dou­bleWhiteBand(Vivien), a 2013 oil paint­ing, by Alex Katz.

Amer­i­can artist Alex Katz.

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