ALEX KATZ (B. 1927)
ALEX KATZ (B. 1927)
ALEX KATZ (B. 1927)
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ALEX KATZ (B. 1927)


ALEX KATZ (B. 1927)
signed and dated 'alex katz 01' (on the overlap)
oil on linen
72 x 60in. (183 x 152.4cm.)
Painted in 2001
Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2003.
C. Ratcliff (et al.), Alex Katz, London 2005, p. 254 (illustrated in colour, p. 187).
Vienna, The Albertina Museum, ALEX KATZ - Kartons und Germälde/Cartoons and Paintings, 2004-2005, pp. 21 and 96, no. 28 (illustrated in colour, p. 61).

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Claudia Schürch
Claudia Schürch Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Held in the same private collection for the past two decades, Isca (2001) is a luminous monumental portrait by Alex Katz. A young woman is framed in close-cropped three-quarter profile against a soft lilac backdrop. Golden light illuminates her fine features and bared shoulder, as if the sun is beaming in from the picture’s left. Katz’s trademark billboard scale and smooth, wet-on-wet brushwork appear deceptively simple: the picture is alive with exquisite economies of detail, from the feathered strokes in the subject’s hair to the green and lilac used for her eyes, and the bold, graphic black line of the strap that runs down her shoulder. Katz shapes a vivid human presence with the most effortless and eloquent of means. The sitter is Isca Greenfield-Sanders, an artist whose husband was Katz’s studio assistant for a number of years, and whose father, director and photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, photographed Katz in the 1980s. In 2004, the painting was shown in Katz’s major retrospective at the Albertina, Vienna.

Works like Isca realise an ambition for vastness that was Katz’s from an early stage. Studying art at Cooper Union in the era of Abstract Expressionism, the Brooklyn-born painter wanted to make figurative work that would stand up against the most powerful canvases of the New York School. ‘Those Klines and de Koonings had so much big energy; I wanted to make something that knocked them off the wall’, he remembers. ‘Just like that—more muscle, more energy. They set the standard. It wasn’t the style I wanted to follow, but I wanted to paint up to their standards’ (A. Katz, quoted in ‘Robert Storr in Conversation with Alex Katz’, in Alex Katz, London, 2014, p. 14). Katz’s early paintings paid homage to Cézanne, Bonnard and Matisse. The latter’s cut-out collages were especially influential for the young painter, shaping the ways in which he positioned his figures as separate to their backdrops. He was soon depicting his friends, family and acquaintances on a cinematic scale.

An enormous sophistication lies behind Katz’s clean surfaces and cool, quotidian themes. His works’ bold chromatic fields and panoramic presence chime with the bravest innovations in Colour Field, Minimalist and Pop painting while fitting into none of these camps. A deep knowledge of the Old Masters and Impressionists, as well as an enduring fascination with Ancient Egyptian sculpture, infuses his figures and faces with timeless grandeur. In their stylised, unadorned lucidity, his works arrest and energise the most fleeting moments of everyday life, lending incidental details a vital new significance.

Writing in 1961, Katz declared: ‘I would like my paintings to be brand-new ... A brand-new painting without much quality can be exciting, but there is nothing quite like a painting that is brand-new and terrific’ (A. Katz, ‘Brand-New and Terrific’, Scrap, Vol. 6, 19 April 1961, p. 3). What he meant by ‘brand-new and terrific’ was a form of representation that hit the viewer with a visual jolt, one that paralleled the perceptual phenomenon of seeing a person for the first time. Katz’s flattened, stylised figures are distilled so as to mimic that initial focal impact. The effect invests even his most familiar subjects—who are typically friends, family and close acquaintances—with the shock of the new. Isca arrives like the dawn, aglow in brilliant, intimate splendour.

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