Alex Katz Discovers Pop Art in the Subway

THE DAILY PIC: Alex Katz's student works at Timothy Taylor – 'I wanted to paint what was in front of me.'

THE DAILY PIC (#1816): You could say that this painting represents the very first hints that Pop Art was on its way into the world. Alex Katz made it at the end of the 1940s, when he was in art school at Cooper Union, and it’s now in a lovely show of his student work at Timothy Taylor gallery in New York.

The gallery has up 52 drawings that Katz made in the subway, on his long commute from Queens to his downtown art classes – plus the one painting that is today’s Pic. “I wanted to paint what was in front of me – and that started out with the subway drawings. I wanted to make things that didn’t look old,” Katz said yesterday when I reached him by phone. “These drawing were the start of facing your visual reality.”

What particularly strikes me about this one subway painting, however, is how Katz dwells on its advertising in a way he doesn’t quite in the drawing (below) on which it is based.

Katz is often mentioned, along with Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, as one of the “proto-Pop” artists of the late 1950s. That makes his subway art proto-proto Pop. Funny thing is, it happens at almost exactly the same moment that an art student named Andy Warhol found summer work on a fruits-and-veg truck, and sketched its customers. (Painting ©Alex Katz / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY, Courtesy Colby College Museum of Art, gift of the artist; drawing © Alex Katz / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY, courtesy Timothy Taylor)

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