Alex Katz is a leading contemporary artist, known for his extensive work in portraiture. Born in New York City, Katz studied art at the Cooper Union from 1945 to 1949 and later at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Skowhegan, Maine. In the 1950’s and 60’s, Katz was among a group of artists who became dissatisfied by the dominant movements of Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art and began to focus on portraying the human figure.
Among his most well-known portraits are the paintings Katz has done of his wife, Ada. Created throughout more than five decades, these paintings are remarkable in their depiction of the same subject over the years, and highlight Ada’s integral role as a muse, inspiration, and partner to the artist. In these portraits and others, Katz renders friends and family in a highly realistic, yet simplified manner. Emphasizing the two-dimensionality of the canvas, he executes his figures with geometric shading and delineation, and positions them against a plain background. The figures appear in relaxed and natural poses, which creates a relationship of familiarity and intimacy for the viewer.
Katz’s first solo show, featuring a selection of his paintings, was held in 1954 at the Roko Gallery in New York. Throughout the 1960’s, the artist taught painting at prestigious art schools such as the Pratt Institute, the School of the Visual Arts in New York, and the New York Studio School, along with designing stage sets and costumes for the Paul Taylor Dance Company at the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto in 1960 and 1964. In 1974, the Whitney Museum of American Art hosted an exhibit of his prints, and later a retrospective exhibit entitled Alex Katz in 1986. Spending summers in Lincolnville, Maine since 1954, Katz has developed a close tie to Colby College, and in 1996, the Colby College Museum of Art opened a wing featuring over 400 oil paintings, prints, drawings, and collages donated by the artist. In the past few decades, Katz has become increasingly famous and influential in the art world, with his unique style establishing him as a leader of the new realism movement in contemporary art.