Alex Katz is eager to satisfy the social obligations early so he can settle in and get serious about summer in Maine.
Katz, a trendsetting figurative painter who turns 83 in July, will receive the 2010 Maine in America award on Saturday at the Farnsworth Art Museum. The award is part of the museum’s Summer Gala, a major fundraiser.
With recent reductions in staff and pay cuts, the Farnsworth is struggling financially, accenting the importance of Saturday’s event.
Katz understands that.
“I’m glad to help out. They asked me to do this, and I said OK, because I like the institution and I believe in the institution. I am happy to help,” he said.
“But I don’t think I will do any more of these honors. It’s a cocktail party and a dinner, and I have done enough of them. I’d rather just do my work.”
Saturday’s award coincides with an exhibition on view at the Farnsworth through Jan. 2, “Alex Katz: New Work.” It includes paintings that Katz completed in Maine in 2009, and many are from his private collection.
Katz first came to Maine in 1949 as a student at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. Every year since 1954, he has spent his summers at Lincolnville.
He usually comes up in June and stays through the early fall. He loves summers in Maine, because they help expand his visual horizon. He appreciates the way the clouds mix with the sky in August, and how the colors are deeper.
Otherwise, Katz is a New Yorker to the core.
“I like New York a lot, but I could never live all year round in New York. I’ve never spent a summer in my life in the city, in fact,” he said by phone from the city. “It’s very uncivilized. I grew up in Queens. There were a lot of trees, and golf courses.
“I always liked being around vegetation in the summer, and that’s why I like Maine. Where I am in Maine, it reminds me of Queens. It’s green.”
Katz generally works small in Maine. The massive canvas paintings for which he is best known are too large for his Lincolnville studio, so he works on those large-scale works over the winter in New York.
Summer in Maine is about making sketches and executing smaller works.
The paintings in the “New Work” show include images of water lilies — his personal homage to Monet — and buttercups, as well as figurative paintings. He plans to paint more flowers and water lilies this summer, continuing this series of work.
But, Katz is quick to add, summer in Maine is also about gearing down and clearing a cluttered mind.
“First things first, when I get to Maine, I take a sigh. I go cut some tall grass that should be cut,” he said. “I do a lot of biking, riding, swimming and running. It’s a simple life.”