Alex Katz: Quick Light – Serpentine Gallery, London

29 June 2016 § Leave a comment

It’s the instantaneous light. If you get it right then you get it in the total present tense – that’s what you’re going for, that’s eternity.” Alex Katz

The new Alex Katz exhibition at the Serpentine Galleries is a combination of two distinct series of work representing two aspects of his work – portraits and landscapes. Entering the gallery we are met with three walls each with one gigantic orange painting.

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These are recent portraits of women – each given the subjects first name – Vivien, Anna and Ada (his wife, a frequent subject). They may be named and are ‘of’ somebody but that is as far as Katz wants to take us. These might just as well be still lifes, we are not invited to learn any more about these ladies and there is no narrative. We are simply encouraged to be ‘in the moment’ and the artists wants to see no more or no less that what is right before us.

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The subjects are simply dressed, if indeed we see what they are wearing, almost expressionless, and return our gaze. The backgrounds a pure bright orange – they could be ‘Easy Jet’ adverts and indeed the link with advertising is there, Katz heavily influenced by billboards, his paintings characterised by their flatness of colour and fluidity of line.

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The artist, now 88, came of age as an artist in 1950s New York, and developed his unique approach to contemporary representational painting during the height of Abstract Expressionism. His work is reminiscent of artists like Tom Wesselman and Andy Warhol but any association to pop art is to be avoided though as gentle and careful brushstrokes energise the caves and bring life to the faces.

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The exhibitions title, Quick Light, comes from Katz’s desire to bring the image to us as quickly as possible – as in adverts – removing superfluous detail in order that our brains absorb the image with minimal delay. Like the almost totally two dimensional figures the paint is flat and he is happy to agree with the term ‘aggressive’ in respect of the quick impact that his images have upon us.

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The Serpentine has also taken the clever opportunity to present a number of Katz’s landscape paintings in the leafy surroundings of Hyde Park. The central gallery is occupied by several of these, some almost abstract in appearance exemplify his life-long quest to capture the present tense in paint. The largest fill whole walls of the Serpentines sizeable walls.

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Reflection is a rohrsach-style mirrored reflection water in blue and  black, West 1 features illuminated windows on a black background whilst Black Brook 18, in green and black we guess must be a stream and grass.

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They are enigmatic and again Katz gives no story – these are paintings simply of present ‘moments’.  Regardless of their scale, he describes these paintings as ‘environmental’ in the way in which they envelop the viewer. Defined by temporal qualities of light, times of the day and the changing of the seasons.

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Everything Katz does looks deceptively easy, and thats how he wants it. Seeing that Henri Matisse’s work seemingly required ’no effort’ he was inspired to paint in a similar way. The inspiration of this Serpentine show is seeing another master at the peak of his powers.

Alex Katz: Quick Light is at the Serpentine Gallery until 11 September.

For more information visit www.serpentinegalleries.org

This feature also appears on www.cellophaneland.com

 

The Artists Colouring Book of ABC’s launched at the Serpentine Gallery

13 December 2013 § 1 Comment

I dropped in to the Serpentine Gallery last night for a charity auction event in support of  the Kids Company Charity. A veritable who’s who of top contemporary artists were all persuaded to each donate a drawing representing a particular letter of the alphabet (the full list is below).

Grayson Perry

Grayson Perry produced a plethora of ‘P’ objects in a typically witty sketch, Harland Miller a wicked Devil cartoon, Tracey Emin lazily scribbled a cat (representing A for Animal – what?) Jake and Dinos Chapman went wild with O’s – in a design that also featured on hostesses dresses – and Keith Tyson‘s neatly drawn treasure map featured a prominent X (of course!)

Keith Tyson

Paula Rego‘s excellent contribution was a dark, contorted monkey whilst my money would have gone on bidding for a colourful Gillian Ayres or a great work from Joseph Kosuth – a ‘G’  with another ‘G’ in a thought bubble.

Gillian Ayres Festival

The end result was The Artists Colouring Book of ABC’s a fun book for adults and for children to approach the alphabet through an exciting interplay with art. Each original work was auctioned either by Sotheby’s guest auctioneer Henry Wyndham or offered in a silent sealed auction.

Jake & Dinos Chapman

Hopefully the end result was a success for the charity although the rent-a-crowd (from  the event planners who very kindly donated their time) to me seemed to consist of rather more B list wannabes out for a party than art collectors?

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The book would make a great Christmas gift for parents who want to display their arty credentials amongst fellow parents or a cool adults gift, especially in the £250 boxed limited edition version that includes a Chapman Brothers editioned print!

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The Artists Colouring Book of ABC’s  (buy here)

Size: 265 x 365 mm, 60 pages, 200gms. Paperback. RRP: £15.99

Charlotte Colbert, Alix Janta and Lauren Jones. A collaboration between AlteriaArt & Humpty Dumpty Publishing

Artists
A is for Tracey Emin
B is for Fiona Banner
C is for Alex Katz
D is for Harland Miller
E is for Chantal Joffe
F is for Gillian Ayres
G is for Joseph Kosuth
H is for Betty Woodman
I is for Gary Hume
J is for Pietro Ruffo
K is for Cathie Pilkington
L is for Mat Collishaw
M is for Paula Rego
N is for Keith Coventry
O is for Jake & Dinos Chapman
P is for Grayson Perry
Q is for Bob & Roberta Smith
R is for Gavin Turk
S is for Rachel Howard
T is for Polly Morgan
U is for Georgie Hopton
V is for Maggi Hambling
W is for Paul Fryer
X is for Keith Tyson
Y is for Yinka Shonibare
Z is for Marc Quinn

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