Reflections on Alex Katz’s painting “Camden, Maine”

Winter is coming, bringing its dark hues of grey and blue. White snow will cover the trees, the ground and the top of one’s head; it will carry with it an endless chill, one that even Colby’s somewhat unreliable dorm heating will not be able to abate.

The image of such a dreary day is juxtaposed to an oil painting that currently hangs in the College’s Museum of Art. This oil painting, a depiction of Camden, Maine, is suggestive of a summer warmly remembered, with its pastel shades of pink, blue and green.

Alex Katz painted the piece in the summers of 1953-1954, when he was residing in Maine. In the early 1950s, Katz received a scholarship to spend two consecutive summers studying at the Skowhegan School for Painting and Sculpture. The school is located in Skowhegan, Maine, which is a thirty-minute drive north of the College.

During his summers there, Skowhegan School exposed Katz to the idea of “painting from life” rather than from a drawing. This encouraged him to spend more time in the outdoors, and ultimately led him to develop his own style: “Painting from life proved pivotal in his development as a painter” and is still a “staple of his practices today,” according to Katz’ website. His time spent in Skowhegan, Maine, and its proximity to the College itself, encouraged him to donate multiple pieces of his artwork to the College’s Museum of Art.

A characteristic of Katz’ work, particularly evident in his piece “Camden, Maine,” is the loosely depicted edges; his pastel colors and vague forms only elusively resemble rolling hills, houses, and the sea. The oil painting includes multiple boats along the shoreline, depicted by a faint variation in color and curve in shape. There is a singular tree hidden among the cluster of houses, each a different color.

Colors are in places they do not normally belong; the hills in the background are a sky blue, while the sea and the sky are a pale pink. In fact, it is the general shape and form of the objects in the painting that allow the viewer to understand what they are seeing. The houses, the tree and the rolling hill are simple, allowing the viewer to delve into the beauty of the colors.

In all, it is this distance from realism that allows Katz to instill within the reader a sense of the warmth in Camden. Looking at this piece, one can, for a moment, forget the harsh call of winter that stirs just outside the Museum’s doors. Inside, it is warm with the remembrance of a Maine summer. 

 katz website

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