Katz, the Gatsby of painting

Alex Katz is the Gatsby of painting in which color is a party. It does not matter if the celebration is a room in society, the landscapes in the open air and from the window where the light and the birds that are not seen can be heard in the background or if it is hosted by an invisible house of mirrors in which the identity is fragmented in echoes among which to decipher the enigma of the self. In each and every one of these areas of the forty paintings in the first retrospective in Spain, this pop New Yorker is a spectator within the history that is happening on a Times Square scale and from which, at the same time, he is absent to observe and tell us that happiness is the fiction of an instant.

Alex katz: ‘The cocktail party’, 1965

Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum

Fiction is expressed by Katz (New York, 1927) through the unlimited fullness of color and the cultural construction of the face that results from combining the aesthetic appearance of the mask with the real condition of his friends to create a theatricality of the self, and the concept existential of island beings. Characters reminiscent of Fitzgerald but also of Truman Capote, of Hopper’s scenarios or of Eric Rohmer’s films with the prosaic nature of their dry daily scenes, without antecedents or hidden narration, inhabited by lonely women and men and idealized as stereotypes of a iconographic beauty, and sometimes absorbed in the pleasure of melancholy, representative of a classy bohemian poetics magnified by the publicity of success and desire.


Five annotated paintings


Round Hill, 1977. Bucolic choreographic painting whose background semantic richness is the relationship between the characters, defined by the body language of the figures that represent their attitude and their role within the group, and by the gazes masked in sunglasses that trace enigmatic diagonals that are barely visible. they meet. Equally important, almost as a key to the painting, is the character on the fringes of the intuited dialogue and concentrated on reading a book by Shakespeare, perhaps transmitting his emotional dissent from the collective landscape or the symbolic message that the characters do not exist and they are only an abstraction of their reading.


the cocktail party, It is impossible not to remember the painting Society in Paris (1931) by Max Beckmann when contemplating this fascinating chamber theatre, where the characters are poets, photographers and painters, friends of Katz, in cold and distant attitudes like their gazes, despite their conversational disposition in the choreography of false bohemia and ephemeral pairings that make up, closer to those of the existentialist party captured by Federico Fellini in The Dolce Life. More interesting than the whispers and the object details –the glasses, the cigars– are the slow time of a cool present that beats on the scene, and the exterior back room of the night with its neon lights and stories on the other side of this window. the painter’s loft, with which Alex Katz proposes a suggestive underside of the scene in the foreground.


Summer tale, 2006. How many women are there in a woman? Alex Katz studies them from the admiration of him. In fact, in the painter’s work they are present as double images, from his Ada in blue. With the gaze of a studio photographer, supported by the red curtain that enhances the light, the artist composes a peculiar frame in two parts. One without any narrative or link, beyond his participation in a false group. And a second where the leading role is given to the two figures that on the right of the image seem to represent portraits of the same woman at different ages of her attitude. The one in the background is defensive in its immobility, the one in the foreground safe and free. They both share the gesture of the hand that betrays their identity, and in their gazes they hide the answer to Alex Katz’s question, floating in the air like his figures.


Double Sara B, 2011. This painting is one of those that best represents how little Alex Katz cares about the illusionist concept of depth in painting in his work, and instead highlights the geometric perfection of the figure with a clean economy of pictorial language, close to fashion figurines for its lightness, stylization and proportions, but proposing it at the same time as a sculptural volume that confers greater prominence. Less demanding in their execution, they express the artist’s desire to create spaces without sources of color as a background in which the body conveys the sensation of a movement in progress, typical of a sequence of film frames or dance notes traced as a sketch with a Warhol wink.


The black jacket, 1972. Adam in the mirror. It is not a Nabokov novel but it does have its aura of mystery in the Rita Hayworth of The Lady from Shanghai, where Welles deconstructed it in the images of the emotions of a psychological duel. It’s what pop has, that cinema and literature sneak inside or as an atmosphere to painting, the same as this wonderful pictorial poem about Ada. A beautiful composition of identity in the metamorphosis of a gesture that undoubtedly recalls the multiple portrait by Duchamp from 1917. The difference is that Katz builds a frontal shot with the same Ada serialized in two echoes and a slight variation of light and gesture in the center, occupying the extremes with beauty and psychology, highlighted in the tone bicolor hair and eyes that end up smiling in profile before leaving the portrait.

The countenances as still lifes with forceful color in the foreground of a synesthetic psychic state in ted berrigan Y TheLight, in the wonderful celluloid women of mystery and fashion Nicole, blackhat, Blue Umbrella the introspective serenity of blue outline of ada and the glow of big red smile from which a contagious red smile escapes, they transmit that moment in which each one of them is the precise place and time of a motionless emotion.


Alex Katz: ‘Double Sara B’, 2011

Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum

The monumental dream of the chromatic stroke that magnifies its ephemeral figures cut out on a flat background and that also look at us from the front or from the side. In their eyes and on their lips is the focus of the secret of that tranche de vie that traps them. A subtle introspective lyricism that contrasts with the beauty of the elusive chromatic reverberations of the Maine groves, such as Appel Blossoms and Orange and Black, in which the chromatic temperature is musically poetic.


Alex katz: ‘The black jacket’, 1972

Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum

Watteau. Matisse. Maneth. Van Gogh. Georgia O’Keeffe. Rothko. Abstract expressionism and pop at full volume are the essence of scenic composition, of the advertising impact in its breadth of this artist gifted to think pencil drawing with subtle line gestures but whose enjoyment is to define it in oil on canvas, where the color emphasis builds the space and is the absolute expression of the pictorial fact. In Katz, not only is the decisive matter of the image the chromatic volume, he also attracts from his paintings the perception that his painting expands from the inside out, and invites us to join the party in which the nature of color has a face , and an emotional mystery to solve.


Alex Katz: ‘Summer Tale’, 2006

Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum

Alex Katz

Curator: Guillermo Solana. Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. MADRID.WWW.museothyssen.org.until September 11