Alex Katz - Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Tuesday, October 14, 2014 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris

  • Catalogue Essay

    Alex Katz’s portraits are renowned for their flatness in both colour and form. Partially influenced by billboard advertising, his canvases typically feature dramatically cropped faces that emphasise the physically of the human features to the extent that they almost seem to emerge from the canvas. The enlarged images are intense in both content and scale; at once occupying large amounts of space and proficiently focusing on the detailed elements of human form.

    Eyes Closed 2 is a characteristically close-up depiction of a female face. Contemplative and introspective, her features lend the image a pensive and meditative quality. Monumental in scale, this particular lot focuses on the depiction of sentiment and evokes a highly poignant response from the viewer. Her heavy lidded, closed eyes invite the audience to envision her private thoughts, questioning the boundary between private and public. The artist plays with light to elucidate and expose particular element of the painting, both illuminating and obscuring his subject. The depiction is clear and impulsive, powerful in its immediacy. ‘It's much tighter, because they go from real tight to more open in all of the fluid style. Manet's brushwork is all very controlled, as an example. It's not spontaneous; it's not natural, you know. It's fluid. And that was like the big thing to get off this natural painting. Because natural painting worked for a lot of people. But for me I could paint it naturally but then I'd have to want to refine it a little bit and it would look natural. Most people thought my paintings looked unfinished because they were spontaneous-looking. So there was a change there where I wanted to make something that was like fluid rather than natural.’ (Oral history interview with Alex Katz, 1969)

    Katz’s technique reflects the size and quality of his works. Using an overhead projector to blow up his images to extraordinary proportions, he develops a rapidity in his method that perfectly reflects his choices of subject matter and theme. Pre-mixing his colours and preparing his brushes in advance, the artist focuses on the impact of a moment, revelling in immediacy and artistic impulse. His style developed from the portraits typical of the 1950’s, which depicted everyday people performing daily activities. The conclusion of formalism and the progression towards Pop art in the following decade played an essential role in the formation of his art. His portraits became more impersonal, objective and unmistakable in style. The resulting works emphasise the flatness of the picture plane and the economy of line whilst still retaining a strong sense of the representational and the figurative. The seductive emotional detachment created is reflective of the works by the Japanese artist Kitagawa Utamaro, an artist who explored the interplay between projected distance and stimulated empathy.

    This Japanese influence corresponds to further influences in Katz’s oeuvre. Le corsage à carreaux or The Checked Blouse, by Pierre Bonnard, was carried out in 1982 when the artist first discovered the power of Japanese art. The oblong composition of the painting is a reflection on the concept of the kakemono, a vertical painting carried out on paper or silk. The specifications for this method require that the height roughly equals twice the width, dismissing western tradition. Bonnard’s adoption of unusual angles and multiple viewpoints also originates from this influence and can be seen to be progressed in Katz’s works. Eyes Closed 2 creates the impression of volume without the use of classical modelling, suggesting shadow and shape through perspective and illusion.

    The intimacy created in this lot is largely due to the sitter’s closed eyes: both shutting out the viewer and implying a sense of shared inner sentiment and experience. Similar to the painting titled Girl Reading, executed by Pierre August Renoir in 1874, the figure is both distant and approachable. Renoir presents the viewer with the image of a young girl reading a novel: her gaze is averted from the viewer towards the book itself, yet on closer inspection her eyes appear to be closed. This action, which both evokes deliberation and internal thought, implicitly involves the viewer in the scene. As in Eyes Closed 2, the audience is exposed to intense emotion and inclusion without coercion or obligation.

    This capturing of romantic intimacy also suggests an element of the voyeuristic, of the desire to see into the lives of others in scrupulous detail. As in the work of Renoir, Katz endorses this breach on privacy, involving the viewer and responding to their curiosity in kind. Despite its initial straightforwardness and minimalism, Eyes Closed 2, on closer inspection, reveals intrinsic paradoxes within superficiality. Exploring the relationship between public and private and individual and collective it both inspires an individual response and encourages a sense of collective understanding. Katz plays on effect of exterior influence on painting: at once divulging its impact on personal thought and confirming its place within creative inspiration.


Eyes Closed 2

oil on canvas
243.8 x 121.9 cm (96 x 48 in.)
Signed and dated 'Alex Katz 04' on the overlap.

£150,000 - 250,000 

Sold for £206,500

Contact Specialist
Peter Sumner
Head of Contemporary Art, London
+44 207 318 4063

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 15 October 2014 7pm