Sunday, 7 October 2012

Alex Katz at the Turner Contemporary Margate first impressions.

The new exhibition by the American artist Alex Katz at the Turner Contemporary art gallery in Margate passed the first test for me, which is always, do I want to paint after visiting an art exhibition.

Photography is banned in the exhibition, so if you want to get some idea of the artist’s work just google “Alex Katz” and click on the image tab.

I drew quick sketch below sitting outside the LOLA and Company café on Margate Harbour Arm straight after visiting the exhibition, sorry that it’s a bit runny, watercolour is like that.
I used very poor quality paper which has a tendency for the surface to disintegrate too.

Alex Katz is acclaimed as one of America’s greatest living artists, so I was interested in people’s impressions of his work, one of the people I spoke to who said they didn’t like it, said when I asked her why? “It’s too American for me.”

I will try and ramble on about it here and add a few pictures of Margate today.

If you start the exhibition as I did you first arrive in a gallery of pictures by artists who influenced Alex Katz. There are a couple of Marlene Dumas large heads of people lying down that are very striking. And of course lots of people looking at pictures and behaving as though they would like to be looked at while engaged in this activity. There is also some sort of alarm or something that is obviously connected with the gallery that keeps emitting a high pitched whistle. This could be a deliberate part of the exhibition, but I don’t think so.

There is a group of pictures by Walter Sickert, if like me you like this artist then these pictures make it worth going to the exhibition, even if you discount everything else there.

Close by and still in their wet period is a very good David Hockey of a young man bending over in the shower.

There are also some Stubbs horse paintings and the inevitable Turner, it was at this point I slightly lost confidence in the exhibition, I mean; did turner who’s faces usually look like partly risen dough, really influence Alex Katz who’s faces are like photos with the contrast set on ultra high?    
   There was the usual strong smell of rotting seaweed outside the gallery, contrasting with the amazing view and reflections.

I think perhaps what Katz has achieved that I find most distinctive is that the people in his pictures have a similarity with ones memory of people viewed when one was a child. 
Aspects of the architecture of The Turner Contemporary are brutal in the way the Arlington House is and I wanted to photograph this as I wondered whether this influenced David Chipperfield, so taking my large camera with me as I lack the skill to express this with my mobile phone's camera, wasn't a complete waste of time. You may have to click on this one to expand it for the desired effect.  
Here is my view when sketching the Turner Contemporary, my defence is that almost as soon as I started the people sat in front of me, perhaps I should have included them in some way.

I have Just managed to download and upload the images from the gallery's website, so i will add some explanatory text when I get time. 

Alex Katz, Eleuthera, 1984, Oil on linen, 305 x 670.5 cm Private Collection, Courtesy Galería Javier López, Madrid © Alex Katz/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY 

Sorry about beating around the bush here and putting the post up bit at a time, Alex Katz is an artist that interests me, and it is the portraits of middle class New England Americans that interest me the most within his work.

Being a bookseller makes books my bag, and my favourite New England author is John Irving, never having been to America, I suppose I am looking out for bears and not finding them in Alex Katz. 

Anyway these first four pictures fall into this bracket and there is a way in which the changes in the English class system is producing people more of this type here and now in the this part of the world. Think DFL Whitstable and so on. So this may help when taking a bit a bit of a deeper look at these pictures.

Alex Katz studied art especially modern (not contemporary) art to a fairly high level, so a deeper look may be a good here, his pictures are a bit - attractive advertising hoardings on the surface, so the exhibition is pleasant enough to look at, even if you don’t want to apply your mind to it. 

Alex Katz, Black Hat (Bettina), 2010, Oil on linen, 152.4 x 213.4 cm
Private Collection, London © Alex Katz/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
Image courtesy Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris - Salzburg 

Alex Katz, Islesboro Ferry Slip 1975, 198 x 213.4 cm Art © Alex Katz/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY 

Alex Katz, Round Hill, 1977, Oil on Linen, 180.3 x 243.8 cm Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Partial and Promised Gift of Barry and Julie Smooke Art © Alex Katz/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY Digital Image © 2012 Museum Associates / LACMA 

I am, always have been a bit of a slow thinker and as the exhibition is on locally with free entrance, I will probably view it several times, all the harder because of the copy of Troilus and Cressida being read in one of the paintings. 
Alex Katz, Penobscot, 1999, Oil on board, 229 x 305 cm © Alex Katz/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY ARTIST ROOMS Acquired jointly with the National Galleries of Scotland through The d'Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund 2008

Henri Rousseau 1844-1910, Bouquet of Flowers c.1909-10, Oil paint on canvas, 61 x 49.5 cm  Tate, Bequeathed by C. Frank Stoop 1933 


  1. Thanks for this. I shall be visiting the exhibition asap.

    1. Highly recommended Yogi, whatever Katz is or isn’t he is very good at nailing likenesses and expressions.

  2. When I feel better I will go and have a look.


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