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Photo by Fredrik Nilsen Studio

Stop and Smell the Tulips: Alex Katz at 356 Mission Road

A flat plane can convey much more than its one-dimensional nature suggests. Take Alex Katz’s paintings, for example. His portraits, flatly rendered and devoid of much context, bring out personalities that resonate with strange clarity, in spite of their restraint.

Or perhaps it is due to their restraint that Katz’s paintings often force you to experience them in the moment, without the trappings of history or sentimentality. This is certainly true of his recent flower paintings, currently on display in Los Angeles. These large, billboard-like works are set at 356 Mission Road, an art space that was once a printing studio and warehouse. Amidst the high, vaulted ceilings and an industrial-scale vastness, the flowers seem to come at you in an intoxicating thrust of fresh air.

Photo by Fredrik Nilsen Studio

Fresh air, fresh colors. In Tulips 4, larger-than-life yellow tulips sit against a deep navy background, their acid-green leaves and stems intertwined, giving off light and buoyancy, despite a lack of depth. The blooms of White Impatiens are not white, but rather appear as a deep pink, popping out amidst green strokes of leaves that look like the quick mark of a giant brush. Georgia O’Keefe’s lilies these are not – these flowers lack the dark contours that compel introspection, instead, they ask you to experience them instantly and viscerally.

In Los Angeles particularly, where one is constantly on the road, an everyday object can easily be reduced to just another landmark in a vast, sprawling, landscape. Katz’s large, detached flowers allow you to see something in front of you for what it is, rather than as a piece of a bigger picture. They have a special timelessness, rejecting the wistful elements of the spring floral bloom in favor of celebrating its energy and ephemerality.

Courtesy of the artist, 356 S. Mission Road, and Gavin Brown’s enterprise

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