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Meet Alex Katz, Featured Artist at Cleveland Museum of Art

Fresh out of modern-art school in Manhattan in 1949 Alex Katz headed to Maine to study painting. And he wanted to paint from life.

“It was really painting from the unconscious, from life and photos,” he said.

While Abstract Expressionism was of the moment Katz wanted to develop his own style.

“Brand New and Terrific: Alex Katz in the 1950s” at the Cleveland Museum of Art spotlights the 89-year-old artist’s early work finding his way in the art world.

“What I want people to do is to see the images, something they can see in the real world, and I want it to be something they won’t forget,” he said. “With all-over painting you get the sensation but the image doesn’t remain.”

Katz came to Cleveland earlier this month for a talk about the exhibition, which ran first at the Colby College Museum of Art in Maine in 2015.

“Over the course of seven decades he develops a mature style distinct of this work,” said Diana Tuite, Colby's curator of the exhibition. “I think people will have a renewed understanding of how he reaches that point.”

The 1950s works are smaller and more innocent. By the 1960s Katz scales larger and is driven by ambition.

“You paint with and against the previous generation,” he said. “The previous generation was [Jackson] Pollock, Clyfford Still, [Willem] de Kooning. I wanted to paint a big painting and knock them off the wall.”

Walking though the exhibit in Cleveland Katz found a painting he wishes he never sold.

“It’s from a photo. We used to play softball in the early 20s, and it’s like being on a farm picking berries, the whole world disappears somehow,” he said. “It was a sense of freedom.”

The exhibition runs through August 6. It is free for museum members and $6-12 for visitors. 


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