Make us your home page
Instagram

Review: 'Alex Katz: Black and White' surveys a colorful career

When Alex Katz was a kid, his parents, artistic Russian emigres, painted the walls of their Brooklyn home in wild colors and strange patterns. The young Katz rebelled. He painted his bedroom gray and plum, some of the most ordinary colors he could find.

"Everything in our house was so damn bizarre," he recalled.

There is nothing bizarre about Katz's art today.

In the Tampa Museum of Art's exhibition "Alex Katz: Black and White," many of the works (mostly prints as well as a few paintings) are in black and white. Others, however, have flat, intense colors as vivid as advertising banners.

His art can appear deceptively simple. His clean forms sometimes resemble cutouts. In fact, two sculptures on view actually are cutouts of aluminum.

Katz, who showed up for the opening of this exhibition, is whiplash trim and vigorous. He will turn 90 in a few months and is still doing 300 pushups and 200 situps every day.

He came of age professionally in the 1960s when Pop art exploded on the scene. Artists like Andy Warhol, James Rosenquist and Roy Lichtenstein used images from comics, commercial packaging and advertising. Pop art reflected the exploding consumer thirst for products and movies.

Katz came face to face with the ideas of the critically approved "high art" of the period. In abstract expressionism and minimalism, the artist's feelings were expressed on canvases filled with dramatic brushstrokes or in overall fields of solid color.

Katz wasn't comfortable with any of this.

He was counseled never to paint figures. "An older painter gave me some advice. 'Figuration is obsolete and color is French.' "

"I said to myself, 'To you, baby.' "

"When my wife met me," Katz remembered, "she said, 'I thought every intelligent painter would be painting abstracts. What are you doing painting figuratives?' "

Katz felt he had to find his own way. "I was trying to make something that was new and realistic. I didn't know if it was possible, but I kept searching."

"Actually, I had no idea whether what I was doing was going to find an audience, but my instincts told me there was no other way for me."

He was right to follow his instincts. They led him to an internationally acclaimed career. With exhibitions at many major museums, Katz is considered an important American artist. Along with other key contemporary artists, he was invited to create prints at the University of South Florida's noted Graphicstudio. Two books from Graphicstudio projects are in the show.

Katz intelligently distilled the pictorial language of advertising. That language consists of emblems: easily recognizable images repeated many times. As a 20th century artist, he also had to salute the physical qualities of his materials: the flatness of his paper, the dimensions of his canvas, the intensity of his paints. He could paint figures, but sometimes they would have to be almost as abstracted as emblems.

After all, he was not going to paint a window to another world, as artists did centuries ago.

When you visit the show, you'll see how he has tackled these issues. In this stunning exhibition of more than 50 of his works, four of them are titled Ariel. One is a banner-size oil painting on linen. The three smaller versions use different background colors and printing techniques.

All of them show the same trio of pretty girls in swimsuits (actually the same girl in different poses). They parade across the paper like beauty contestants. The women are identical in every version. Katz has simplified their poses so they don't stand out individually. Rather, the rhythm of their bodies has a musical pattern that makes them easy to remember, very much like a melody that sticks in your head.

Look at the fragments of sunbeams skittering like birds across the trees and leaves in the 2015 woodcut Maine Woods 2. The light seems to dance across the scene — even as you are aware of the dense ink and sturdy paper. Katz spends a lot of his time in his studio in Maine, where his love for the surrounding forest is as strong as his love for making art.

"I want to do something larger than descriptive painting," said Katz. "I've been working to make this kind of 'artificial realistic' painting."

.If you go

Alex Katz:

Black and White

The exhibit is on view through May 29 at the Tampa Museum of Art, 120 W Gasparilla Plaza, Tampa. Hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission $15 for adults, $7.50 for seniors 65 and older, members of the military and Florida educators; free for college students with ID; $5 for students. Call (813) 421-8380 or go to tampamuseum.org for more information.

Review: 'Alex Katz: Black and White' surveys a colorful career 03/16/17 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 14, 2017 3:47pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Tuesday May 30

    Events

    Finding Neverland: The hit Broadway show follows the story behind playwright J.M. Barrie as he struggles to find inspiration to create Peter Pan, until he meets four young brothers and their beautiful widowed mother. 7:30 p.m., Carol Morsani Hall at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N MacInnes Place, …

    Mitchell Wray, Jordan Cole, Finn Faulconer and Ben Krieger as the Llewelyn Davies Boys in the National Tour of Finding Neverland. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
  2. Big rents and changing tastes drive dives off St. Pete's 600 block

    Music & Concerts

    ST. PETERSBURG — Kendra Marolf was behind the lobby bar of the State Theatre, pouring vodka sodas for a weeknight crowd packed tight for Bishop Briggs, the latest alternative artist to sell out her club.

    Sam Picciano, 25, left, of Tampa and Molly Cord 24, Palm Harbor shop for record albums for a friend at Daddy Kool Records located on the 600 block of Central Avenue in St. Petersburg, Florida on Saturday, May 20, 2017. OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times
  3. Restaurant review: Features Gastropub in Riverview is fine as movie theater fare, but unimpressive otherwise

    Food & Dining

    Movies aren't exactly dying. Despite all the sturm und drang of predictions that Netflix and streaming videos would kill the cinema, global box office receipts hit $38.6 billion in 2016, a 1 percent gain over the previous year. But that doesn't mean going to the cinema is precisely what it was a generation …

    Soft pretzels are displayed with a beer at the Features Gastropub in the Riverview 14 GDX  theater in Gibsonton, Fla. on Thursday, May 25, 2017.   The 5,900-square-foot Features Gastropub open in the . This element of the project is the brainchild of Philadelphia chef Brian Duffy, who appears frequently on NBC's The Today Show and the Spike TV show Bar Rescue
  4. From the food editor: I love that food is a huge part of Master of None's transcendent second season

    Cooking

    Deep into a late-night binge of Master of None, Aziz Ansari's Netflix series that returned for its second season May 12, I realized I was laying as far back on my couch as possible, blanket clutched up to my chin, eyebrows permanently raised.

    Dev (Aziz Ansari) and Arnold (Eric Wareheim) eat lunch in Modena, Italy, in the second season of "Master of None."
  5. Three 'MasterChef' contestants from the Tampa Bay area talk cooking inspiration and more

    Cooking

    When Gordon Ramsay's MasterChef begins its eighth season tonight, the Tampa Bay area will have three contestants to root for. A marketing director from Tampa, a dentist and Palm Harbor native, and an employee for a steel supply company are all trying to impress a trio of judges with their home-cooking skills.

    Jeff Philbin, from Tampa, left, Palm Harbor native Paola Annoni Patel, and Danny Flores, of Land 'O Lakes, will be competing on the season premiere of "Masterchef."