See Alex Katz’s Punchy New Flower Paintings

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By Rozalia Jovanovic

Artist Alex Katz has unveiled a punchy new series of flower paintings in an online presentation at Gavin Brown Enterprise.

Since the 1960s, Katz’s work has been divided between portraits and landscapes. His portraits have featured family, friends, artists, writers and members of New York society while his landscapes and flower paintings have generally been done in Maine, where for decades he has spent several months of the year.

Whatever he’s painting, Katz, who is 92, treats his subjects with the same flat color, simple form, and aloof detachment that has garnered him wide popular appeal and commercial and institutional success. And it is as enjoyable in person as it is on Instagram.

Alex Katz, Red Dogwood 2, 2020. Gavin Brown’s Enterprise.

He created his first series of flower paintings from 1966-67, in an effort to depict a sense of movement that he believed was missing from his celebrated group portraits like Lawn Party (1965).

He made another group in the early 2000s and has returned to the subject more recently over the last decade in his continued navigation of light and motion.

“The flower paintings were enormous blowups, but it took me about six months to get one to work on a big scale and seem like it was on your scale,” said Katz (in conversation with curator Hans Ulrich Obrist and his son Vincent Katz). “Before that they seemed gargantuan. I was painting flowers and they all looked like Mount Everest, and all of a sudden I got one to work. And then they all worked after that.”

Katz’s paints flowers individually and in small clusters. They’re the same dogwoods, goldenrods, tulips, and lilies he’s painted in Maine over the past 60 years. And like the portraits he’s known for, they’re flat against a vast and seemingly endless backdrop. They have a commanding scale and presence, yet manage to still be intimate and mysterious.

Alex Katz, Goldenrod yellow on lavender, 2020. Gavin Brown’s Enterprise.

Alex Katz, Purple Tulips 2, 2020. Gavin Brown’s Enterprise.

Alex Katz, Goldenrod, 2019. Gavin Brown’s Enterprise.

Alex Katz, Dogwood in Yellow (Penn), 2020. Gavin Brown’s Enterprise.