LONDON.- Timothy Taylor
, London, is presenting Coca-Cola Girls, an exhibition of new large-scale paintings by Alex Katz inspired by the eponymous, and iconic, ﬁgures from advertising art history.
The Coca-Cola Girls were an integral focus of the companys advertising from the 1890s through to the 1960s, emanating an ideal of the American woman. Initially, the Coca-Cola Girls were reserved and demure, evolving during WWI, and through the era of the pin-up, to images of empowered service women in uniform, and athletic, care-free, women at leisure. In the context of pre-television advertising, the wall decals and large-scale billboards depicting these ﬁgures made a signiﬁcant impact on the visual language of the American urban landscape.
For Katz, this optimistic ﬁgure also encapsulates a valuable notion of nostalgia; Thats Coca-Cola red, from the companys outdoor signs in the ﬁfties
you know, the blond girl in the red convertible, laughing with unlimited happiness. Its a romance image, and for me it has to do with Rembrandts The Polish Rider. I could never understand that painting but my mother and Frank OHara both ﬂipped over it, so I realized I was missing something. They saw it as a romantic ﬁgure, riding from the Black Sea to the Baltic. 1.
The poses captured in these new paintings disclose a sense of balletic movement; a left arm extending upwards, a head twisted to the right, a leg poised on the ball of a foot, or a hand extending to and from nowhere - always glimpsed in a ﬂeeting gesture within a dynamic sequence.
Like the ﬁgures in his work, Katzs painting process is tightly choreographed; his practice is ﬁrmly rooted in drawing. Preparation for painting involves a renaissance technique called pouncing whereby to-scale cartoons of ﬁgures on brown paper are tacked onto the surface of the painting. The outlines are punctured with a tool and then pigment is pushed through the holes to delineate the space. The sheer scale and highly dextrous no-noodling brushwork of these paintings demonstrate an incredibly physical process of making, requiring rigour and discipline. The act of repetition is also key to Katzs practice - part of what Im about is seeing how I can paint the same thing differently, instead of different things in the same way.
Katzs work has long been deﬁned by an economy of gesture; a hyperconscious simpliﬁcation of a perpetual now, which he describes as quick things passing. Katzs direct, unambiguous, application of paint is devoid of sentimentality; these paintings are not about the character or mood of the ﬁgure, but rather the style and attitude of a present moment, a subtle distinction with boundless consequence.
Having formally trained in commercial art; television adverts, movie close-ups and billboards undeniably inﬂuences Katzs work as it does in Pop Art, but where Pop Art relies on the replication and multiplication of mass media, Katz manifests the opposite, a sense of compression and intensiﬁcation. His wide-ranging and eclectic preoccupation with the history of painting, from early Egyptian, to Japanese block-printing; Jackson Pollock to European masters such as Matisse and Manet, distinguishes him from the ideals of Pop Art, and has fostered his reputation as an outlier, idiosyncratic and uncategorised.
1. Alex Katz interviewed by Calvin Tomkins, The New Yorker, August 2018