After graduating from the Cooper Union art school in Manhattan in 1949, Katz won a scholarship to study at the School of Painting and Sculpture in Skowhegan, Maine, where he first began to explore plein air painting. At the beginning of the sixties, influenced by photography, cinema, television and advertising, he began to paint in a larger format, combining broad canvases with his interest in the classic portrait. In 1968 he moved into a building run by an artists’ cooperative in SoHo and has lived and worked there ever since.
The collection of portraits that make up the current show are dominated by the presence of the female form, the focus of many of his works, both in the studio and from outdoor sessions. Katz has professed his interest in capturing the beauty of his surroundings, trying to convey elegance through the details of everyday life that he observes in his immediate environment: his family, friends and social circle, New York’s artists and intellectuals. Painted from life in a single sitting, his canvases communicate an inner energy within suspended time. His models appear as enigmatic and distant as antique sculptures or Renaissance portraits, but at the same time undeniably original and modern, both intimate and iconic.
The only male presence in the exhibition is the painter himself, and his self-portrait hangs next to the subjects whose features provide him with the opportunity to explore different treatments of the human face: straight on, three-quarters and profile, single and double, completely foregrounded, with fashionable accessories such as hats or sunglasses; figures, half and three-quarters length, some nude; heads set against neutral or monochrome backgrounds. These are all in a style that is instantly recognizable by its delicacy and economy of line, its nuanced use of colour and its subtle lighting of surfaces and planes.