An Art Autobiography by Alex Katz
Invented Symbols, a book-length memoir by Alex Katz, presents the previously unpublished autobiographical notes of the artist for the first time.
"I grew up in St. Albans, Queens, one of the suburban neighborhoods that started springing up between the wars. It had people from different backgrounds, and the only thing they seemed to have in common was the price of the house. It was at the beginning of the Depression, and there were a lot of cops, firemen, and small businessmen who weren't doing real well, maybe some schoolteachers and a doctor.
My parents, Isaac and Sima, traveled a long way to get there. My mother was from Bialystok, which was then part of Russia, although now it is in Poland. She could recite poetry in five languages when she was a child. When she was 14, she went to Palestine by herself. At 17, she studied acting in Odessa, then went to study psychology in St. Petersburg. On the way home, her train stopped in Lida. That's where she met my father.
Lida was one of the four towns in that region that were considered sophisticated, along with Vilna, Krakow, and Lodz. My father came from a family of scholars, and he jumped from medieval into modern times. His family owned a stove tile factory, and he was supposed to become a scholar. He said his blood was too hot for scholarly pursuits. He spent most of his time playing billiards and chasing women, as far as I could gather, running the tile business from the billiard hall.
When Word War I came, he opened a soup kitchen for the needy and started an amateur theater group for entertainment. My father was cultured but never ostentatiously. Once I heard him talking about art, and I was surprised. He dressed well, and I think he was something of a playboy, but in the Russian style. He liked to ride motorcycles across fields and dive off bridges..."