The current exhibition at Gray gallery is a series of large-scale portraits by Alex Katz of his daughter-in-law, Vivien Bittencourt. Katz’s signature simplistic portraits capture the essence of Bittencourt, a documentary filmmaker. The series explores a familial relationship that draws in the spectator with the scale of the form on the canvas.
The intimacy expressed throughout “The White Coat” speaks to how movement and subtle pigments can truly bring out the essence of a person through paint. Katz has mastered the scenic moments often depicted through a lens, juxtaposed with soft and light-hearted colors that create an indulgent ambiance.
“Vivien in White Coat 5,” from 2021, plays on the viewer’s perception of movement. The back curve of Bittencourt’s body and the close perspective creates a vulnerable moment and incites a friendly intimacy. The highly pigmented blue background moves around her body as if forming to her curves rather than Bittencourt existing in this blue canvas. The lack of exposed body parts, like her hands and face, creates curiosity as if provoking the viewer to tap the two-dimensional shoulder. Katz invites us into the canvas, eliciting a tango of curiosity between Bittencourt and the viewer.
These serial images resemble glimpses of moments from memories. The simple nature is broad enough for us to bring our own spatial moments into the forefront of our minds. The specific details that indicate it is Bittencourt, and the ambiguity, play on our emotions of familiarity and distance.
While the exhibition is named “The White Coat,” Katz plays and continues to play with light and the aforementioned coat. In each painting the light evolves in regards to the pigments that are emphasized on the coat, which Bittencourt wears in each work. The harsh brush strokes on the coat encapsulate how light bends perspective.
The Polaroid-like nature of the exhibition calls into question the rapid nature of how we interrupt moments and how we distinguish similar memories in our brains. Each portrait has subtle differences but all together looks like one continuous movement. Katz, who is also known for his leisurely landscapes, created “The White Coat” with the same vibrancy even with a single color.
The slick nature of the brushstrokes embodies the rapid moment between Bittencourt and Katz’s perspective. “The White Coat” challenges the viewer to look beyond all of the distractions in our day to day life and focus on the little details that are often forgotten. (Caira Moreira Brown)
“The White Coat,” Gray, 2044 West Carroll, through December 17.