Alex Katz - Evening & Day Editions London Thursday, June 6, 2024 | Phillips
  • “Katz’s portraits are true to the way we experience others. They eloquently convey the tension between the determinate outer appearance and the indeterminate inner reality of someone known only from the outside.”
    —Donald Kuspit

    Alex Katz’s Blue Hat of 2004 is an example of the artist’s enigmatic style that has retained a stronghold over the world of contemporary figurative art for many decades. Visualised from a single point of view, the cinematic close-up invites the viewer into a shared, close proximity with the figure. Katz embraced flatness, using colour as a means of expression, rather than texture or perspective. The artist believed that in order for the vibrant hues to be fully experienced both visually and emotionally, elements “alien” to colour had to be reduced. Indeed, two sailboats are merely suggestions along the horizon, while the only decoration in the composition is the woman’s head scarf. There is a transience in the simplicity of the composition, evoking an unknown nostalgia – a silent narrative that we ourselves are not quite privy to. This element is reinforced through the figure’s ambiguous expression, uncanny yet intriguing. She looks towards an imagined vanishing point behind the viewer, making us intrigued as to what holds her gaze. Katz perfectly balances this constructive naturalism, ensuring distractions that provide easy answers are omitted, careful not to forcefully orchestrate one singular narrative. What remains is an evasiveness, the figures caught between revealing themselves and evading their true identity. 

    “If you keep looking, you find out everything about the person. It’s all there. But it’s not the first thing you see in the painting. There is a lot of human content in the pictures...”
    —Alex Katz

    The 1950s New York art scene was dominated by proponents of Abstract Expressionism. Although Katz was astonished by the dynamism of Jackson Pollock’s splash paintings and he admired Willem de Koonings “quick light” compositions featuring a single, emanating luminosity emanating, the artist soon grew uncomfortable with the excessive, slapdash surfaces that characterised their works. Instead, Katz brazenly forged his own path into figuration, preferring the vibrant hues and satirical consumerism of Pop Artists. Much like Andy Warhol’s preservation of branded consumer items in colourful iterations, Katz memorialised his friends and acquaintances into similarly arresting icons owing much to the bold colours and razor-cut manner of commercialised illustration. Moreover, Katz’s large-scale compositions not only posed a direct challenge to the monumental abstractions of his contemporaries, but also poised an interesting exploration into how consumerist society viewed scale, having become accustomed to the enormity of cinema screens and billboard advertisements. However, unlike his Pop contemporaries who sought to evoke modernity and satire, Katz proposed his works were “traditional” in that they spoke more to the history of portraiture and figuration within the artistic canon.


    Katz’s distinctive style, therefore, is as recognisable as it is unclassifiable, never subsumed under any style or prevailing school of art. His rejection of categorisation lends his art a timeless quality, echoing Irving Sandler’s statement that “Movements are always circumscribed by the time in which they are fashionable and thus become dated. Unclassifiable art does not look dated.” In this way, Katz’s striking and utterly unique contribution to figurative art is undefinable, evoking likeness not in the realism of the image but in what is evoked in essence.

    • Literature

      Klaus Albrecht Schröder 382


Blue Hat (S. 382)

Aquatint in colours, on Somerset Velvet paper, the full sheet.
S. 85 x 170.2 cm (33 1/2 x 67 in.)
Signed and numbered 26/75 in pencil (there were also 11 artist's proofs), published by Arte y Naturaleza, Madrid, framed.

Full Cataloguing

£20,000 - 30,000 

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Evening & Day Editions

London Auction 6 - 7 June 2024