Alex Katz Five Hours

(1996, 21:33)
a video by Vivien Bittencourt and Vincent Katz

When Alex Katz paints one of his large, signature paintings, it is an act of the utmost concentration -- a performance, in which he draws on years of experience, as well as on preliminary sketches, painted studies, finished drawings, and a large charcoal cartoon, transferring the bare bones of the image to his canvas. Then he's set to paint, and he usually finishes his paintings in one day. In this case, he painted the six-by-fourteen-foot January 3 in five hours, as his son, Vincent Katz, and daughter-in-law, Vivien Bittencourt, videotaped him. This painting furnishes an ideal example of Katz's technique, because we get to witness, in separate panels of a triptych framework, spontaneous passages of tree branches, and the controlled modelling of a large face of his wife, Ada, the subject of many of Katz's paintings. We get to see the artist's famous portrait style, and also the landscape style for which Katz has been recently acclaimed. The videomakers decided against the use of text; the painter is accompanied only by the music of his friend, the composer and theater artist Meredith Monk. This video captures the essence of Katz, that quality Robert Storr of the Museum of Modern Art defines as the unquantifiable "cool," in a dazzling and moving display of commitment to the experience of painting.

To purchase a copy of Alex Katz Five Hours, please contact Checkerboard Film Foundation.