Quick light is a phrase that we may more readily associate with photography than painting, a medium which comes into being most often when shown the briefest flash of light. But in the paintings of 88-year-old American artist Alex Katz, light is fleeting. His works can be seen as instantaneous moments, paintings, as he describes, in ‘total present tense’. Today, Katz opens Quick Light at London’s Serpentine Gallery.

The figurative artist’s instantly-recognisable paintings are always going to be appealing. Flat, vibrant, somehow upbeat and a little sad all at once; his works adeptly mix simplicity and knowing, his subjects’ expressions appearing both vacant and worldly. Quick Light includes 13 paintings from the last three years, and some older pieces that span back to the mid-nineties. The newer works shown at Serpentine’s South Gallery depict women who have an air of familiarity about them, their grey-toned clothes and hair, peachy skin and simple poses bouncing from rich, slightly luminous backgrounds.

It is this luminosity that Katz explores again and again through Quick Light. In some of the older works light is seen in human-less scenes, reflected cooly through trees onto mildly tempered water or else dappled onto flowers in clean chunks. At some moments light warmly splashes across a whole work, lighting up an entire corn field, at other moments it sits as a solitary streak across an otherwise darkened sky.

A comment made by Katz prefaces the show: ‘It’s the instantaneous light. If you get it right then you get it in the total present tense–that’s what you’re going for, that’s eternity.’

‘Alex Katz: Quick Light’ shows at Serpentine Gallery, London between 2 June and 11 September 2016. All images: Alex Katz: Quick Light; Installation view; Serpentine Gallery, London (2 June – 11 September 2016); Image © Tristan Fewings / Getty

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