John Ashbery and Alex Katz, Fragment, 1969. Photograph by Paul Takeuchi, courtesy of Alex Katz Studio and GRAY, Chicago/New York.
The painter Alex Katz is best known for his portraits—colorful, flat, rich, and realistic, in a style that has become immediately recognizable as his own. Katz has always been fascinated by poetry, and especially by the work that came out of the New York School in the fifties and sixties. “What Katz found so compelling about this scene was its complete disregard for aesthetic precedent, irreverence for an academy of poetry, and gravitation toward vernacular expression, where words were less pondered and possessed an immediacy that spoke of nowness,” writes the art historian Debra Bricker Balken in the forthcoming book Alex Katz: Collaborations with Poets. These qualities have something in common with Katz’s own work, which might help to explain why he has been so drawn to collaborations with poets—among them illustrations, prints, and covers for books by Ted Berrigan, John Ashbery, Alice Notley, and Ron Padgett. Katz has also painted portraits of a number of poets, including his personal favorite, Frank O’Hara, who was himself interested in the crossover between painting and poetry, and occasionally jealous of painters themselves. (“I am not a painter, I am a poet,” one O’Hara poem begins. “Why? I think I would rather be / a painter, but I am not.”) Below are several of Katz’s literary collaborations, including a cover he made for this very magazine in 1985.
Alex Katz and Kenneth Koch, Interlocking Lives, 1970. Photograph courtesy of Alex Katz Studio and GRAY, Chicago/New York.
Alex Katz and Alice Notley, Phoebe Light, 1973. Photograph courtesy of Alex Katz Studio and GRAY, Chicago/New York.
Oink! no. 18, 1984. Photograph by Adam Reich, courtesy of Alex Katz Studio and GRAY, Chicago/New York.
Issue no. 96 of The Paris Review. Photograph courtesy of Alex Katz Studio and GRAY, Chicago/New York.
Alex Katz: Collaborations with Poets is forthcoming from GRAY in September.
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