Influenced by pop art, Alex Katz produced a body of figurative painting dominated by portraits and landscapes. His subjects are broken down into large sections of colour enriched with careful detailing in a smooth, neutral style.
In this work, a cross of dark wood is placed slightly off-centre behind a woven wicker frame, perhaps the back of a chair or bench, whose left-hand side lies along the edge of the canvas, its weave forming a regular, delicate pattern. In the foreground, in front of the cross and wicker frame, are the head and shoulders of a woman looking off slightly to one side. She is wearing a black blouse and brown jacket and on her head is the item that gives the work its character and its title, a green headscarf. The scene takes place in nature: a green meadow can be seen in the background with a high horizon line opening onto a turquoise strip that suggests water rather than sky. The natural world is also present in the fabric printed with white-petalled flowers.
While the shadows on the face and neck are simplified to the extreme, the artist has created a subtle interplay of visual echoes between the woman’s eyebrows, the flower stems, the wickerwork, and the folds and details of the jacket. The anonymous portrait, in harmonious chilly hues of blue and green and warmer yellows, ochres and browns, is timeless. The woman’s gaze, lost in the distance as if seeking something outside the artist’s restrictive frame, adds a touch of melancholy. The decision to place the figure in a precise construction and the woman’s minimal yet majestic expressiveness may gesture to Piero della Francesca, an artist Alex Katz admired greatly.
Bernard Fibicher, Catherine Lepdor et alii, Peinture. Alex Katz & Félix Vallotton, exh. cat. Lausanne, Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts, Milan, 5 Continents, 2013: 29.
Carter Ratcliffe, Robert Storr et alii, Alex Katz, London, Phaidon Press, 2005.
Éric de Chassey (ed.) Corps social, exh. cat. Paris, École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris, 1999: 52.