A lot of people don’t much like the work of Alex Katz and this is understandable. There is something innately hostile about those huge abstracted faces and those perfect flowers, almost suitable for wallpaper. This work however is both smaller and easier to like. Now ninety-one, the artist has not lost any of his considerable skill but the work has a new and distinctive kind of grace.
Katz was never a Pop artist but this work is about the Coca Cola bottle, at several removes. The Coke bottle has a place in Pop iconography of course, most notably in the work of Andy Warhol. But Warhol was painting an icon of the world he lived in, whereas Katz may or may not be nostalgic for what coke represented in the America of his youth. He is definitely concerned though with the red and white colouring of most of the classic ads of the time. We may not see the product but we do see the branding in an important sense.
The semi abstract shapes of women in white leotards take up a number of semi-balletic poses, set to some effect against a plain red ground. As is customary with Katz, we are not given much to chew on. He has described his work as aggressive, which makes a lot of sense to me. We are definitely kept at a distance and not invited into his rather chilly world. But this is less irritating than usual because there is a lot to enjoy in these paintings.
Alex Katz ‘Coca Cola Girls’ is at Timothy Taylor, 15 Carlos Place, Mayfair, London W1K 2EX until 21 December