Quick Light, an exhibition of recent paintings by American artist Alex Katz has taken over the Serpentine Galleries in London this summer, showcasing the artist’s expressive range and signature style through September 11th, 2016. The exhibition centers in particular on Katz’s landscape paintings or “environmental landscapes,” which seek to envelope the viewer in a single encounter with the sublime. Large-scale canvasses, often depicting human and natural forms, fill the gallery space, a particularly well-selected body of work that addresses both the artist’s long history and the unique grounds of the Serpentine itself
Alex Katz, Black Brook 18 (2014)
Born in Brooklyn in 1927, Katz has produced a highly celebrated body of work over the course of his five and a half decade career. Recognized as a distinguished painter of modern life, his work has been influenced as much by the realms of art history as they have been by the language of billboard ads, films, music and poetry. After his first retrospective in the 1980’s, Katz began to focus this style more exclusively on developing a unique approach to landscapes and portrait paintings, work notable for its flatness of color and fluidity of line. As this exhibition exemplifies, Katz approach invests classic genres of painting with qualities of abstraction and novelty, turning them towards a more expressive, minimalist approach.
For Quick Light, Katz has brought together a body of new work in conversation with a group of paintings made over the past two decades, combined in order to articulate his evolving approach and vision of the landscape painting as both image and form, construction and representation. According to the artist, he seeks to create work that will envelop the viewer in a present tense, to evoke images that are not “like a window in a wall, but something that wraps around you.” The paintings, defined by temporal qualities of light; times of day and marks of the changing of seasons, reflect this intention in their scale and precision, and echoes the artist’s concern in stripping away all that is superfluous and unnecessary to reveal the essence of things.
In addition to these landscapes, a series of recent portraits is also on view, with Katz exploring the question of scale, repetition, and the act of measurement that comes with each approach to the act of painting. A “life-sized” representation of the human form, as Katz notes, is frequently determined by one’s perception of both their size and their personality or character. As such, the paintings of bodies and faces included here represent the artist’s attempt to capture a distinctly abstract or obscure element defining how much space an individual fills, often using flat planes of color to emphasize or de-prioritize their presence in space for the viewer.
Coming of age during the 1950s in New York City, Katz developed a unique approach to representational painting in which 19th century painting, postmodernism, and Abstract Expressionism coalesce. Here, his extraordinary output of paintings is simultaneously reviewed and refreshed, continuing an investigative approach to his painterly material that has long served as a core motivator in the ongoing vitality of the painted canvas.
— A. Corrigan
Exhibition Page [Serpentine Gallery]