The famed New York-based painter, printmaker, and sculptor Alex Katz (born 1927) has developed a unique, instantly recognizable, and paradoxical aesthetic that is simultaneously warm and cool, formal and representational. He is renowned for his large-scale depictions of places and people he knows intimately: the streetscapes and rooftops of the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan, where Katz has lived and worked for decades; the woodlands, lakes, and shores of Maine, where he keeps a second home; friends and loved ones, and, most especially and in more than 200 iterations, his wife and muse, Ada. And yet Katz renders these subjects with dispassion and detachment in economical lines, spare forms, and bright but oddly muted colors. Katz's work has a seductive sang-froid.
He graduated from New York's Cooper Union in 1949, and for the following two summers continued his studies at the Skowhegan School for Painting and Sculpture in Maine in the plein air painting program. A figurative painter by inclination and temperament, Katz fought against the prevailing gestural approach, destroying hundreds of works, Katz has said, as he sought his own method. He began to be influenced by movies, television, and advertising, and what emerged in the late 1950s and early 1960s was a style that anticipated Pop art–familiar and at the same time remote and impersonal. Katz took one cue from Abstract Expressionism: his canvases grew larger as he embraced that school of art's grand and epic formatting. As the critic Carter Ratcliff wrote: "Appropriating the monumental scale, stark composition and dramatic light of the Abstract Expressionists, he would beat the heroic generation at their own game."
Here's to You (1962) is a seminal painting from the early-mature stage of Katz's career that discloses much about his evolving style and technique. Relatively small in scale compared to later work, the painting suggests both an intimacy with and distance from the subject. "Katz's 'small paintings' reveal other stylistic and, dare I say, emotional characteristics that were not entirely banished from the large works he initiated in the early 1960s," the curator Adam D. Weinberg wrote of this and similar works. Here's to You has been widely exhibited at venues that include the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton, New York, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.
Ratcliff, Carter, and Iwona Blazwick. Alex Katz. Rev. Ed. London: Phaidon, 2014. Print. Weinberg, Adam, Dana Self, and Shamim M. Momin. Alex Katz: Small Paintings. Place: Kansas City: Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, 2001. Print.
Photo caption: Joe LeSueur (the subject of lot 142) with Jack Larson