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Blowing Up Maine

Blowing Up Maine
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“I’m the one who upped the ante in landscape painting,” Katz replied in no uncertain terms. “When you stand in front of one of my paintings you are in the landscape.”

If so, that’s in large part because Katz’s landscapes are so BIG. The Farnsworth show includes a pair of monumental flutters of maple leaves, a series of “Homage to Monet” paintings of water lilies, and a wallpaper-like painting of buttercups. Each of these paintings measures 6 x 12 feet. The grandest of all is “Water Hyacinth,” a frieze of aquatic leaves 4 feet by 20 feet.

Alex Katz’s approach to the Maine landscape is to zoom in and then blow things up. When it works, it does so because Katz excels at translating the immediacy of drawing to the much slower medium of painting. When it doesn’t, as in one of the water lily paintings, a picture of two little gray men in a canoe adrift on a white canvas, and a sunset through trees nocturne, it’s because neither the subject matter nor the painter’s droll, uninflected style are compelling enough to warrant being blown up so large.

Katz likes to say that his paintings have no meanings, no messages, nothing to get between the viewer and appearances. What they do have, however, is ambition, the drive to make the people and places of his life the stuff of art history. Most of time he’s successful.

[Farnsworth Art Museum, 16 Museum St., Rockland ME, 207-596-6457]

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