Alex Katz was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1927. In 1928, at the outset of the Depression, his family moved to St. Albans, a diverse suburb of Queens that had sprung up between the two wars. Katz was raised in St. Albans by his Russian parents. His mother had been an actress and possessed a deep interest in poetry and his father, a businessman, also had an interest in the arts. Katz attended Woodrow Wilson High School for its unique program that allowed him to devote his mornings to academics and his afternoons to the arts. In 1946, Katz entered The Cooper Union Art School in Manhattan, a prestigious college of art, architecture, and engineering.
In the early 1960s, influenced by films, television, and billboard advertising, Katz began painting large-scale paintings, often with dramatically cropped faces. In 1965, he also embarked on a prolific career in printmaking. Katz would go on to produce many editions in lithography, etching, silkscreen, woodcut and linoleum cut. After 1964, Katz increasingly portrayed groups of figures. He would continue painting these complex groups into the 1970s, portraying the social world of painters, poets, critics, and other colleagues that surrounded him. He began designing sets and costumes for choreographer Paul Taylor in the early 1960s, and he has painted many images of dancers throughout the years. In the 1980s, Katz took on a new subject in his work: fashion models in designer clothing.
In the late 1980s and 1990s, Katz focused much of his attention on large landscape paintings, which he characterizes as “environmental.” Rather than observing a scene from afar, the viewer feels enveloped by nearby nature. Katz began each of these canvases with “an idea of the landscape, a conception,” trying to find the image in nature afterwards. In his landscape paintings, Katz loosened the edges of the forms, executing the works with greater painterliness than before in these allover canvases. In 1986, Katz began painting a series of night pictures—a sharp departure from the sunlit landscapes he had previously painted, forcing him to explore a new type of light. Variations on the theme of light falling through branches appear in Katz’s work throughout the 1990s and into the 21st century. At the beginning of the new millennium, Katz also began painting flowers in profusion, covering canvases in blossoms similar to those he had first explored in the late 1960s, when he painted large close-ups of flowers in solitude or in small clusters. More recently Katz began painting a series of dancers and one of nudes, which was the subject of a 2011 exhibition at the Kestnergesellschaft in Hanover. Katz’s work continues to grow and evolve today.
In 1968, Katz moved to an artists’ cooperative building in SoHo, where he has lived and worked ever since. He continues to spend his summers in Lincolnville, Maine.