As Irving Sandler, the venerable historian of postwar American art, points out in his brilliant essay for this book, Alex Katz's painting "has never been persuasively subsumed under any style. If anything, he is a one-man movement." There is the clear early influence of Matisse in Katz's full-length figures in simplified spaces or rooms, but after that Katz stands apart from other realist painters of our time. Katz cares about color deeply. He is clearly fascinated by design. But while he is often lumped in with such pretty painters as Jane Freilicher and Fairfield Porter, his work is much more ambitious. Although he is, like them, a painter of his immediate surroundings, including people, interiors, and landscapes, Katz never relies on intimacy for effect. His subjects are always part of something larger and more abstract--a sweeping environment of color and design that transcends the personal.
This book is a retrospective catalogue that will mesmerize Katz fans and perhaps persuade some of his ardent detractors to reexamine their aversion. Katz has always been reviled for exactly the things that make him popular and high-priced: his harmonious colors, his stylishness, and his accessibility. Here, Sandler thoughtfully constructs a sophisticated esthetic biography that accurately conveys Katz's independence, intelligence, and lack of sentimentality. He also manages to evoke the poetry of Katz's particular brand of beauty, with its nuances of light and air captured in doubt-free, arm-extending strokes. The only problem with this book is that the paintings' measurements are not included in the captions, so if you are not familiar with Katz's ceiling-scratcher sizes, you may find it hard to imagine their impact. --Peggy Moorman