Alex Katz (b. 1927)
Alex Katz (b. 1927)

October 2

Alex Katz (b. 1927)
October 2
signed ‘Alex Katz’ (upper right)
oil on linen
59 ¼ x 49 1/8in. (150.3 x 124.7cm.)
Painted in 1962
Collection of the Artist.
Robert Miller Gallery, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner circa 1986.
Utah, The Utah Museum of Fine Arts, Alex Katz, 1971, p. 117, no. 12 (illustrated, p. 65; incorrectly dated '1961').
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Alex Katz, 1986, p. 152, pl. 42 (illustrated in colour, p. 69).
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Tessa Lord
Tessa Lord

Lot Essay

Held in the prestigious twentieth-century art collection of Paul J. Schupf, October 2 is an atmospheric early painting by Alex Katz. Painted in 1962, at the dawn of his career, it belongs to a small group of works depicting the view from his studio window on West 28th Street in New York. Shown in the artist’s solo exhibition at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts in 1971, and subsequently included in his major mid-career retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1986, it demonstrates the enigmatic, light-infused figurative style that distinguished him from his peers during the heyday of American Pop Art. Here, Katz combines angular geometries with glowing hues and loose, expressive brushwork, delighting in the nested interplay of windows and frames. Having studied at the progressive Cooper Union during the late 1940s, he came of age during a time of great cultural vitality in New York, imbibing the thriving dance, jazz, poetry and art scenes. Though Abstract Expressionism was the dominant artistic force at the time, Katz looked further back, absorbing the lessons of Cézanne, Matisse, Bonnard and – to some degree – the Old Masters. In his portraits and landscapes, he strove to capture a sense of what he described as the ‘present tense’, paying close attention to the subtleties of light that defined a given time and place. Bathed in a soft autumnal glow, October 2 eloquently demonstrates this approach: it is not nostalgic, but fresh, alive and strikingly of the moment.

‘Long before there was a New York School of painting, there was New York light’, writes Ingrid D. Rowland. ‘Somehow, the endless horizons and the constant interplay of sky and water along this gigantic estuary perform a miracle: solid shapes take on a bracing clarity, yet at the same time the sea air softens every hard edge, under an oblique sun that blunts the sea’s stern blues and greys with radiant gold’ (I. D. Rowland, ‘Alex Katz: Capturing Light’, in Alex Katz: Quick Light, exh. cat., Serpentine Gallery, London, 2016, p. 26). Though Katz’s crisp focus on the details of everyday life aligned him with the sensibilities of Pop Art, his sensitivity to the experiential qualities of his surroundings ultimately set him apart. Indeed, Rowland’s description of ‘New York light’ seems particularly pertinent to the present work, where rigorous contours blur into a sensuous haze. The result is a disarming play of perspective – a dance of rectangular geometries – in which foreground and background appear to oscillate. ‘The beauty and power of Alex Katz’s paintings lies in the way in which he engages all the different aspects of how we experience depth, both sensually and existentially’, writes Jan Verwoert. ‘… This is the world as we live it, with eyes in motion and a mind that reaches out into space or homes in on something and holds it very close, seeking the soul in this material world’ (J. Verwoert, ‘Lived Depth’, ibid., pp. 40-41). Distilling radiance from the quotidian, the present work offers a powerful early reflection of this statement.

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