Painter Alex Katz, 88, Says There Is Power In Visiting Your Fears

PRUITT: That's why I was asking what your daily routine was. I can lounge around for hours and procrastinate, but you seem like the opposite of that. You seem very focused. 

KATZ: Yeah. But sometimes it takes me days or weeks to get something clear in my head on what I want to do. Everything is in steps. One thing leads to another. I found early on that I couldn't paint six hours a day like Bill de Kooning. My painting time was completely different. My talent was different. You have to find what your temperament is like and live around it. I find I work really well off the top of my head because you get the unconscious into it. Otherwise, it's just an idea. And I'm not so hot there. [laughs] It's not what I want, you know?


PRUITT: When you're young, it's like you're running through this maze, grabbing things that you might need in your tool bag, throwing things away that aren't essential, and hopefully, your thoughts are getting clearer, but you don't really know what you're doing.

KATZ: If you know what you're doing, you're doing dull stuff. 


ROB PRUITT: Are you always in the moment? Or are you ever self-consciously aware of your production? Do you ever think to yourself, "It's time to do something completely unexpected!"

ALEX KATZ: Well, actually, you want to go into an area where you're frightened. Otherwise, you're just going to be repainting beautiful paintings, but a little duller each time.

PRUITT: That's such a simple answer, but it's absolutely true, at least from my perspective.

KATZ: You have to be a little scared of what you're doing. Otherwise, you just paint the same masterpiece a little worse. Like, Clyfford Still was out of sight for about four years and then he kept repeating himself until it wasn't that interesting.


KATZ: Well, it's hard to see yourself. Other people tell you what you look like.

PRUITT: I also always have the feeling that I just started yesterday. Maybe it's so that if people try to push me over into the category of not being a major success, I can think to myself, "Well, of course I'm not. I just started!"

KATZ: That's the way I feel.

PRUITT: Even though it's actually been 25 years!

KATZ: That's pretty much how I always felt, that it was all ahead of me.

PRUITT: But you have so much work to be proud of. And you're not one to rest on your laurels.

KATZ: No. But you never know who your audience is. A lot of times, I feel there's no one out there—very little, anyway, except some old friends. But I realize my position in the world has changed a great deal from what it was 40 or 50 years ago.

Excerpt via Interview Magazine