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Alex Katz talks to Ben Luke about his influences—from writers to musicians, film-makers and, of course, other artists—and the cultural experiences that have shaped his life and work.

Katz, born in Brooklyn in 1927, is one of the most distinctive and influential painters of recent decades. Since he began making art in the 1940s, he has aimed to paint what he has called “the now”: to distil fleeting visual experiences into timeless art. It might be a spark of interaction between friends or family, the play of light across water, a field of grass or between the leaves of a tree, the movements of dancers, the electric illumination of an office building at night, or—more than anything else—stolen glances, everyday gestures and intimate exchanges with his wife Ada, who he has painted more than 1,000 times since they married in 1958.

Alex Katz’s Ocean 9 (2022)

From the start, Katz has aimed to match what he calls the “muscularity” of the Abstract Expressionist artists that were dominant in New York when he emerged onto the art scene there in the 1950s, while never giving up on observed reality.

He has said “the optical element is the most important thing to me”. He discusses the early influence of Paul Cezanne, the enduring power of his forebears, from Giotto to Rubens and Willem de Kooning, and his admiration for artists as diverse as Utamaro, Martha Diamond and Chantal Joffe. He reflects on the “emotional extension” of the poet Frank O’Hara and his interest in jazz maestros like Pres and Charlie Parker. Plus, he answers our usual questions, including the ultimate: what is art for?

Alex Katz’s Claire McCardell 9 (2022)

Alex Katz: Claire, Grass and Water, Fondazione Giorgio Cini, Venice, Italy, 17 April-29 September; Alex Katz: Wedding Dresses, Portland Museum of Art, Portland, Maine, US, until 2 June; Alex Katz: Collaborations with Poets, The Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio, 15 September-15 November.

Alex Katz’s Claire McCardell 4 (2022)

This podcast is sponsored by Bloomberg Connects, the arts and culture app.

The free app offers access to a vast range of international cultural organisations through a single download, with new guides being added regularly. They include numerous leading US art museums and galleries, many of which have shown and collected the work of Alex Katz. They include the McNay Art Museum, in San Antonio, which was the first dedicated modern art museum in the state of Texas. Download the guide to the McNay, and you can explore its permanent collection, which now includes Medieval and Renaissance art alongside Modern and contemporary highlights. You can also look in-depth at the museum’s exhibitions, including A Particular Beauty: 19th-Century French Art at the McNay. The guide features audio content on works in the show, including pieces by Berthe Morisot and Édouard Manet.

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