The American artist Alex Katz is the subject of a thrilling new exhibition at the Timothy Taylor Gallery in Mayfair this autumn. Alex Katz Cutouts showcases the latest work in the renowned series of figures which Katz began working on in the late 1950s.
Three portraits of the artist’s closest family form the centrepiece of the show. Katz’s wife and lifelong muse Ada del Moro Katz is featured twice in the exhibition, while the artist’s son Vincent also pops up in the show.
Depicted as both a wind-vane and also as a lifelike sculpture walking away from the viewer, Afa Katz is very much the star of the new show. Katz’s son Vincent, meanwhile, is caught in the mirrored outline of a fleeting embrace with his wife Vivien. All three pieces invite the audience to enter into the inner world of the American artist, as he strives to capture the beauty of those he is closest to.
The idea of the Cutout came to Katz by chance. Wanting to remove a background he was displeased with, he cut the central figure out of a painting and mounted it on a plywood panel hung on the wall. The year was 1959. Later, the Cutouts evolved into freestanding ‘picture sculptures’, painted directly on metal and carved out using a power saw. Each consists of a front and back, a discordant unease between images that echoes Katz’s long fascination with repeated images in paintings dating back to the 1950s.
Clear yet complex, their features combine the illusions of painting with the spatial realism of sculpture. ‘The word “effigy” hovers around them,’ the art historian Carter Ratcliff writes in Alex Katz: Cutouts. The contemporary immediacy of their dress, style and look – Katz once described his observations as ‘Light. Clothes. People,’ – suspend the aesthetic qualities of film, advertising, television and fashion into a starkly contemporary style, echoed in his paintings, that is emblematic of society today.
Moving beyond the principle of a painting as offering a window effect into another world, the Cutouts’ shape express the physical immediacy of human presence while remaining highly abstract. Their narrow composition encourages the viewer to step close to the sculptures, to observe and walk around them as if they were part of the environment of the room, but their experimental picture planes relate to a painterly lineage of Cubism. Formally daring and optically surprising, the Cutouts compress the balance between reality and artificiality in Katz’s work.
Katz has often been compared to members of the Pop generation such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein with his enigmatic portraits of contemporary society and crisp, confident articulation of colour.
Yet his paintings revolve around a more classical design: the confrontation between visible reality and its reduction to a symbol. And this confrontation is most visible in his Cutouts. The pieces represent the fullest expression of Katz’s strategy.
Alex Katz Cutouts is at from the 1st of October 2021 until the 1st of April 2022. More information about the exhibition can be found here.
For information on other great exhibitions in London, please click here.