Alex Katz’s October

The Art on the Wall 10/20/14 Hi, I’m Anne, voice of The Art on the Wall, a blog for reflections on art and viewers’ reactions. I elicit and post comments (and some of my own). To start, I used Alex Katz’s large painting of the ocean, named October, hanging in the lobby of the Portland Museum of Art (PMA) in Maine. The crest of a great white wave funnels into shore, interrupting the grey horizon. What does the audience think?  (Feel free to comment below.) I watched a couple come up the stairs into the lobby of the museum. They stopped and turned to face October with the woman closer than the man who stood behind her. It lasted less than a minute. Then the man waved his arms. Were they fighting? They headed outside to Free Street. When asked about the Katz the man said, “I do like it. I wanted to stare at it a long time. But, we’ve been downstairs for an hour and a half.” The woman nodded. “It’s not quite so obvious,” she said. (Above is a scan from the PMA magazine “Inside the Circle”)

Lucinda, Freeport 11/5/14 Back to your question about my reaction to October. I really like the painting. I needed to get as far back as possible to appreciate it. But once I did that it came alive. I like the soft greys, and the way Katz captured the motion of the waves. I wonder about how he works on pieces like this. Does he use a grid/guide? Does he use ladders? Does he use huge brushes (or perhaps a spray gun)? There is a mystery to it all, which is also appealing to me.

The Art on the Wall 11/21/14 We can’t get away from this guy,” said a young father to his wife or partner as they stood beneath Katz’s sea portrait. I watched them casually. The dad crouched behind his toddler son with his hands on the boy’s shoulders. With Irish-knit sweaters on, the parents looked seafaring. The boy and a pretty little girl, a bit older, had blond, tousled hair. The father asked, “If you had to say the name of this painting, what would you think?” The boy looked briefly but didn’t say. “Let’s move back,” the father said. They stepped back and he posed the question again. Then the boy was off to Aaron Stephan’s white pedestal sculpture that was distractingly close. “Ooh look at this,” said the boy, touching one of the forms. photo

The Art on the Wall 11/26/14 Inspired by October, as a light snow fell I went to the ocean and saw Katz-like waves rolling in. I was surprised at how much the sight resembled the artist’s line of broken white foam. Nothing’s constant. (photo by The Art on the Wall)

Giselle, Dubuque, Iowa 11/29/14 The main thing when I sat down in front of it I just loved it. Instant. I knew it was an Alex Katz but it didn’t look like an Alex Katz at all. I knew they were waves from the ocean but the fact that it was grey and not blue made me think of life as not being black and white but grey. Life is nuanced. So it was like, yes, because I totally related to the symbol of this massive wave of power. And the grey stood out because I relate so much to grey as nuance and life not being black and white. And I felt. And then because it was like the water. Because of the waves I could feel a washing of the soul it was that powerful. I didn’t want to stop looking at it and then I started thinking Niagra Falls. And, could it be waves in the ocean or snow or a snow avalanche. And both are so nature and power and symbolic. Melting, moving. Calm and chaotic. It pulled me in and under. Snow cold warm waves. Infinity.

Sofia, NYC 11/29/14 The painting doesn’t make me feel much to be honest. Even though it depicts waves it doesn’t remind me much of the Maine coast or elicit feelings/memories. Paintings of the ocean can be so deep and powerful, but this one makes me very aware that it is just paint on canvas.

The Art on the Wall 12/4/14 I was inspired to investigate other water portraits. I came upon an installation by Leandro Erlich, “Swimming Pool,” on the internet. I loved his illusion of a pool filled with water and his audience beneath the surface behaving like mermaids. I thought of a bathing rituals and stories of ancient peoples like the Essenes who immersed themselves in the Dead Sea. I watched a YouTube video of Oprah visiting a mikveh in New York seeing where, after sunset, Jewish women plunge and cleanse for a split second, “…coming face to face with God,” Ophrah’s tour guide said. Emma's ocean

Emily, Kennebunk 12/5/14 The moment has been captured. It reminds me of walks on the beach with good friends in the fall when bundles of woven knits are needed in order to enjoy the view comfortably. To others it may seem as an unimpressive painting of a wave crashing, but to me it is a nostalgic moment captured in a piece of work done in a simple but powerful way. Thank you, Alex Katz. (photo by Emily Sharood)

George, Arundel 12/7/14 At first I didn’t think it was the ocean. The cascading of the water made it look like a waterfall. It really didn’t grab me. After visiting it many times, I started to see what the artist wanted to show. It made it a lot of work to get there. I didn’t dislike it but it wasn’t something I’d go out of my way to see.


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