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September 8, 2013 3:36 pm
Few artists insist so defiantly on surface as Alex Katz. His lucid, inviting paintings of beautiful people in beautiful places are not only flat and hard-edged as posters, but use fashion – a floppy hat, a bobbed haircut – to freeze the passing moment. “Style is the content of my painting, and style belongs to fashion. Fashion is the immediate present and that’s what I’m really after . . . to maintain that present-tense feeling,” he says.
What then is beneath the surface? Mima’s show expands on last summer’s excellent Tate mini-retrospective Alex Katz: Give Me Tomorrow to explore how the artist uses drawing. Ranging across 60 years, it includes collages, sketches, watercolour and ink washes, and preparatory cartoons, mostly from Katz’s own collection, displayed alongside paintings, to consider his enduring concerns: light, time and social situations.
Beguiling charcoal depictions of his wife and muse Ada, his daughter-in-law Vivien and Vogue editor Anna Wintour compel as studies for celebrated recent portraits. A series of energetic, abbreviated notations in marker pen for the reflective monumental landscape “Black Brook” demonstrate the primacy of drawing as Katz considers composition and proportion. Crisp black ink sketches explore gestures between people and the balance between distance and intimacy – how a reclining figure sits up to watch another leave the scene, how a pair of bathers hold each other – which is so finely modulated in paintings such as “Ada and Edwin on the Beach”.
Collages experimenting with layers of horizon line, water and sky are lively and simplified, and anticipate ambitious abstracted seascapes such as “4.30pm” – three bands of colour and a few blocky white boats which fix forever one late afternoon on the Maine coast. Light is as directly caught in large-scale drawings such as “Study for Summer Triptych” and “Miami Beach”: “it’s the instantaneous light, if you get it right then you get it in the total present tense . . . that’s eternity”, says Katz. But as the drawings show, that surface brilliance in his paintings is hard won.
To October 13, www.visitmima.com
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