The work of Alex Katz is readily associated with Pop Art, both for its realism and choice of subjects, yet it differs significantly. The apparent simplicity of his pieces reflects a distant Matissian heritage, while simultaneously remaining indissociable from the history of American painting.
In the early 1960s, the monumental size of his paintings, depicting tightly-framed subjects, evoked a billboard-like aesthetic. Known for his landscapes and portraits of women, Katz primarily paints his entourage; his wife, Ada, is depicted in more than 250 portraits. A feeling of tranquility and the representation of an idealized American way of life emerge by way of a meticulous, multi-stage process. Oil sketches from life are followed by drawings in pencil or charcoal transferred to a canvas, which is then painted in a single workshop session. Katz calls his large-format landscapes created in Maine “environmental paintings.” Using diluted materials that seem to extend beyond the frame, he captures sunlight and foliage in Black Brook 18 and Figure in the Woods. For more than twenty years, Katz painted the same river, Black Brook, near his Lincolnville studio/house every summer. In this series, which includes pieces ranging from small to massive formats, he captures the landscape’s reflection on the surface of the water without clearly distinguishing what is represented.