Often associated with Pop, Alex Katz rejected this connection: “Pop Art deals with signs, while my work deals with symbols. Pop Art is cynical and ironic. My work is not. Those are big differences. Pop Art is modern. My work is traditional.” Katz’s series Smiles comprises eleven portraits of smiling women, all set against a dark, neutral background. Katz often draws on his closest circle as the subjects of his portraits (his wife, friends, and so on, often identified by the name incorporated into the title of the painting). Here his subjects function as a research tool in his investigation of the traditional figure-ground relationship. While his work is consistently representational, Katz does not aim to represent the sitter’s personality, but rather to present a more profound reflection on the nature of representation and the perception of images. By repeating the same framing device, figure-ground treatment, and gesture —the smile— Katz invites us in this series of works to focus not on the specific subject but on the pictorial experimentation across these varied depictions.


  • Title: Smiles Ursula Smiles 2
  • Creator: Alex Katz

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