The nine prints and one painting in the current show exude panache, skillful execution and a love affair with both inner light and sunlight. With the exception of “Premium Point, 1976” an oil on canvas, Katz is offering new work from the past couple of years.
Katz’ signature style includes pure unmodulated color carefully applied to avoid any celebratory brush strokes. Taking cues from 1950s commercial illustration, including billboards and magazine fashion drawings, Katz was a Brooklyn-born and Queens-raised rebel on the streets of Manhattan when gestural abstract expressionism was the only show in town.
Katz studied at Cooper Union during the early days of abstract expressionism, from 1946 to ’49, but preferred painting portraits and figures. He moved to Maine in 1949 to study at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, where he discovered plein-air landscape painting. Since 1950, he has divided his time among figures, portraits, flowers and landscapes. Katz has been spending summers at his house in Maine and winters in his Manhattan loft since 1954.
“Endless Summer” is a wonderful cross section of Katz’s passion for elegantly rendered figures, lovely flowers and sensitive landscapes. Katz admits a fondness for paintings by Henri Matisse, whom Katz considers the most skillful painter in the history of Western art. Japanese artist Kitagawa Utamaro and English portraitist Thomas Lawrence all provide inspiration.
When I first saw Katz’s work in the early 1960s and heard him speak about painting, he seemed to be slotted in the pop art genre but with a softer palette. What I did not appreciate then was that Katz was an uncontrived progenitor of the pop movement. Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol and others were followers of Katz who – like Bay Area painter David Park, who painted “Kids on Bikes” in 1950 – had stubbornly re-established the human figure many years before the abstract expressionist spell was broken by other artists.
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