T03805 Hiroshi and Marsha 1981
Oil on canvas 72 × 96 (1828 × 2437)
Presented by Paul Schupf 1983
Prov: Paul Schupf 1981 (purchased from Marlborough Gallery Inc., New York)
Exh: Alex Katz, Marlborough Fine Art, January–February 1982 (4, repr.)
The subject of this painting is friends of the artist, Hiroshi Kawanishi, a silkscreen printer who lives in New York near the artist, and Marsha, his wife. They have subsequently divorced. They are depicted against the background of lower Manhattan, looking from SoHo towards the financial district of Wall Street. The view is that from the art critic Irving Sandler's home in Bleecker Street, which Katz had decided was suitable for the subjects.
Katz does not use photographs when he begins the work but draws from life on location. Initially he works in pen and pencil on small pieces of paper and produces many variants showing different poses and combinations of the participants. On this occasion he made nine, each 9 inches by 11 inches, and a drawing of the same size which combined aspects of several of these. He then made a small painting in oil on a pressed wood board (gesso ground prepared by the artist) to establish the subject and colour values; this was 18 × 24in. Having decided on the subject he returned to the location with the sitters and made a drawing of approximately 15 × 22in., which was followed by two more delicate and detailed (‘finished’) drawings of a similar size. The time devoted to these ‘finished’ drawings amounted to four sessions with one additional session to adjust (or ‘wreck’ as he puts it) these drawings. One of these drawings was enlarged conventionally to make full-size cartoons for the painting on kraft paper. Katz used a pinned wheel to prick the cartoons and ochre pounce to transfer the image to the canvas. Katz found this image particularly rich and he made three finished paintings from it - the Tate's painting; a portrait, 60 × 100in., of Hiroshi, now in the artist Joel Shapiro's collection; and a canvas 120 × 100in., of Marsha, now in a private collection in New York. The cartoons for each version were developed independently from the finished drawings.
Katz is a meticulous, conservative craftsman who prepares his own canvases using traditional sizes and grounds; he mixes all the colours required for painting, a process which may take as long as painting the work itself. The painting is executed relatively quickly with large brushes, usually working wet pigment into a wet base colour. Katz seeks to create the most particular rendition of person, to achieve a likeness with the greatest economy of means. He has been told that his works reveal careful observation of psychological interrelations, although he does not set out to do this.
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986