Monday, 30 March 2015

Alex Katz: Black Paintings

I really enjoyed this show of portraits by Alex Katz. I thought they were successful outcomes because of the way they placed the central figure of the portrait off-centre, and also isolated the single figure in the portrait, and used the vibrant colours of the figures against a plain black background.

Where Katz used two figures in the paintings he seemed to suggest a tension/distance or possibility of confrontation between the two figures. I like Katz's pared down visual language, reducing the portraits to a simple series of colours and loose brush-strokes, almost like that of Julian Opie who goes further in employing similar graphic reductive simplification in his art.

I was also able to make connections with the visual language of Manga and Anime art, such as that of Studio Ghibli in Katz's paintings although you are able to distinguish the singular painterly brushstrokes which make up the eyes and eyebrows of the figures and also the loose brush work which makes up the hair of the individuals.

I found the portrait above - Vincent, interesting in that it is almost a non-portrait, because the viewer is confronted with the back view of the sitter and Vincent is virtually unrecognisable. Vincent by turning his back on the viewer seems to assert that he wants no part of the portraiture process, and I think this view assumes a certain arrogance/bravado on the part of the sitter and artist, but it also adds a psychological tension, and as viewers we have to ask why the sitter chose to be distant and confrontational by turning his back on us the audience and present us with a non-portrait. Vincent staring out into the bleak, black background rather than facing us also adds to this psychological tension.
It 's a small but intriguing exhibition.
Alex Katz Black Paintings
until 2nd April
Timothy Taylor Gallery
15 Carlos Place
London W1K 2EX