Visu­al Arts

Brand-New & Ter­rif­ic: Alex Katz in the 1950s

Diana Tuite
  • Review
By – December 23, 2015

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 facade 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.

Relat­ed Content:

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.

Discussion Questions