Katz's paintings are fundamentally concerned with the nature of individuality and relationships. Whether portrait or landscape, the narrative is propelled by implied emotion or communication between any number of interdependent entities. A lone figure communicates with the vacant space, much like Edward Hopper's subjects did, or with the viewer in a direct gaze. When Katz's paintings portray pairs of figures or groups, as in the current work, Rowing, the viewer becomes an isolated observer of human interaction.
"The faces [of Katz's subjects] can appear confrontational, confident, canny, quizzical, frank. Katz's portraits, however, continually explore the ambiguities of expression. His paintings remind us that facial expression, the notion of the mind's construction being tellable in the face, is as elusive and unreliable and yet undeniably compelling as the notion of the 'expressiveness' of a work of art' (M. James, Alex Katz: Twenty Five Years of Painting, London, 1997, pp. 32-33).
Katz's rowers, a father and son perhaps, float in through the center of the composition in a small rowboat. They appear to glide through tranquil waters, their expressions as cool and placid as their pale surroundings. The water envelopes most of the picture plane; only the slimmest, most indistinct horizon line is visible along the top edge of the canvas. The figures, as a result, appear to be alone on the water sharing a moment of togetherness. Yet despite the intensity of the gaze that they share within the confined space of the boat, an emotional solitude pervades as well.
"The strategy, if that word does not suggest too great a calculation, of allowing content to surface through a seemingly neutral motif, is of course a defining one in a lot of early modernism. Frequently in Manet, for example, one can observe the phenomenon of psychological moment evoked through a tableau that actively resists obvious and elevated 'subject', allegorically or symbolically or narratively signalled as in 'high' salon art. In a curious recasting of avant-garde logic, his art can be seen as reviving 'the painting of modern life' in the face of a new salon subject painting, albeit one whose subject was the subjectivity of the abstract painter" (ibid, p. 47).