American figurative artist is drawing attention 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.