Brand-New & Terrific: Alex Katz in the 1950s is sure to delight readers interested in the artist’s exploration of technique and craft at the outset of his career. Opening with four essays on his early works, Brand-New & Terrific draws attention to the development of Katz’s treatment of light, style, space, and color, as well as the direct influences of the emergent arts movements around him, in the collection of over 90 oil paintings and watercolor collages to follow.
Katz’s distinct voice of midcentury American Impressionism pleases on every page. Incorporating still lifes, landscapes, and portraiture, the collection highlights the congruence of brilliance in the subdued tones of Katz’s work and the tranquility in even his brightest uses of color. A pink façade through a far window extracts the richness of a folding chair in a spare, nearly-grey room; a series of black dresses bring out the brown sheen of his subject’s raven hair; a tabby cat in a woman’s arms dims the blue of her eyes, calling attention instead to her lips and the shapes of the room behind her. His experiments with pattern in flowers, fields, forests, and even in crowds of people achieve stunning saturation and balance. The lay reader may wish for more details about the artist’s personal life and connections to the subjects of his portraits, as little biographical information is offered save mention of Katz’s upbringing in New York and, at the end of the book, a chronological timeline of his early career, which plots his marriages, divorce, and the birth of his son between residencies, exhibitions, transitions in form, and first encounters with influential works of his contemporaries. Those interested in art history and fashions of the period or in Katz’s method and evolution, however, will find the included essays informative, illuminative, and enjoyable, and all will be captivated by the scenes, patterns, and people featured in Alex Katz’s inceptive works.
Nat Bernstein is the former Manager of Digital Content & Media, JBC Network Coordinator, and Contributing Editor at the Jewish Book Council and a graduate of Hampshire College.