Alex Katz & Me in ‘Red Hat’


In today’s New York Times, there’s an article about Alex Katz, heralding his new show at Gavin Brown Enterprises, which opens Sunday. My love for this painter extends past my admiration of his extraordinary work–at once flat and rich, apparently plain but deceptively complex. I have had the indefinable privilege of sitting for him, letting his eyes and brushwork create me in his lexicon.

Procrastinating doing my weekend work, I got lost in an Alex Katz internet vortex until I found this: a 2014 show at Galería Javier López & Fer Francés entitled “Red Hat,” which gorgeously shows his artistic process from small oil sketch on board to charcoal and large cartoon to the enormous polished finished oil paintings. Here’s an excerpt from the press release:

In Red Hat we are able to see the distinct stages through which he creates his paintings, as he allows us to view the steps that lead up to the final forms from the preliminary sketches. These start as studies in oil on board, where he works from life selecting detail and patterns of colour and light, then charcoal drawings where clear and subtle lines trace the main features of his model—spontaneous phases marked by their naturalism and lightness of touch. His method of making these lines and descriptive elements into his large-scale compositions follows the traditional cartoon method, transferring the images to enormous canvases by means of stencils with perforated outlines and powdered pigment. Use of the cartoon entails a simplicity of form that underlies his unmistakable style, a distinctive idiom that marked him out from his contemporaries at a time when painting in the United States reached the crisis of Abstract Expressionism and the reply offered in the concepts of Pop Art.

My face is in this show several times, and there’s something at once nostalgic and pulse-quickening about being reunited with the fruits of our sittings. These paintings have their own trajectories, traveling the globe, unpacked and displayed, bought and sold…but every once in a while, we are reunited and I consider the moments I sat quietly in his studio, speaking softly to the artist, as beneath his brush my face bloomed. The red hat, which we each donned, appears stiff and elegant, the sort of chapeau that a manicured lady would wear as she walked across the Seine to protect her high-set cheekbones from the summer sun. In fact, it was a floppy, somewhat tattered old thing, that I believe Ada wore for a time while she gardened. If memory serves, Alex told me she put it on one day and he saw it, as if for the first time, and said, “Oh, that’s something. Let’s do that.” He can even make a floppy old hat look taught and polished.

Someday I will have to write about how special the experience of sitting for Alex has been, how lucky I am to have shared those quiet mornings; how much the girl in the Tarajia paintings changed beyond the studio walls over the course of those sessions. But for now, I’ll keep those trivialities and revelations for myself, a delicious secret. Go see the works and enjoy them for yourself. Make up identities and histories for the faces. Let the paintings alone tell their stories, but remember the hat, and that not everything is what it may seem.

Alex Katz at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, 439 W 127th Street, New York, November 5 to December 22, 2017. 

Images here courtesy of Galería Javier López & Fer Francés except snap at right of me with portrait, which is by Alex Katz. 

Tags: , ,

One Response to “Alex Katz & Me in ‘Red Hat’”

  1. Silver Cat says:

    The girl in the red chapeau – I love her and love Alex’s portrayal of her.

Leave a Reply