Alex Katz: A little painting lesson from the veteran of American Pop Art and his next project in the New York metro


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Alex Katz
Alex Katz


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The veteran Pop painter Alex Katz, aged 91, has a bewildering dynamism. The day I meet him, having just been with his London gallerist Timothy Taylor and wearing a fluorescent jacket and pink trainers, he’s in a hurry. And it shows. He rushes through answers, skips sentences, forgets words and fails to finish his train of thought when answering questions that he’s perhaps been asked too many times. His attention seems to be elsewhere. He is full of projects, from representations of models wearing Calvin Klein underwear, “because Calvin Klein makes you feel good”, to a huge project that is being kept secret by his galleries which will take place in the New York metro.


In passing, Alex Katz gives the keys to his painting method, the details of which were confirmed to me clearly later on by Arne Ehrmann at Thaddaeus Ropac.


“Alex Katz always starts with a couple of drawings where he tries to determine the final composition. He continues with an oil sketch on chipboard where he is testing the color scheme of the final painting (these are the so-called studies or small paintings). Then he is doing a drawing on brown paper (like a packing paper) in the original size of the canvas and – like a Renaissance fresco painter – perforates the final outlines with a little toothed wheel (these are the so-called cartoons). He is pouring some reddish pigment through the perforations and some of the pigments are dropping on the canvas below. Now he can see all the outlines on the canvas and is fixing them with light yellow paint. After this procedure he is ready to start painting”.


In his output of recent years the most impressive pieces are his cut-outs, made using a technique that evidently dates back to the 1970s in which the paintings assume the shape of the subject and are then positioned around the space. In arranging these pieces, Katz establishes a rhythm through the succession of figures.


Paint the present, not psychology:

“I don’t want to show any psychology in my paintings”.


The light rather than the colour:

“The colours make the light”.

What’s exciting after such a long career:

He talks about a secretive, large-scale project which will take place in the New York metro.

Work every day

“People feel good when they wear Calvin Klein underwear”.


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