Show Us Your Wall: At 90, Still Raising the Bar for Himself — and the Other Guys

The painting “Golden Image,” I never did anything like it. It was a sunset in Maine. I usually paint the sensation of what I’m seeing. Here, I’m actually painting the analysis of it, all memory. I made four or five little sketches in different colors. I lost any discernability of which one was better. I said to Ada, “Which one do you like?” She said the yellow one. I heightened the colors. There’s very little tonal difference [between the trees and the sky]. It sort of merges. I took it right up to 12 feet. It came out like dynamite.


A painting by Francis Picabia titled “Tête de femme au foulard” (1941-42). Credit Adrienne Grunwald for The New York Times

This portrait of a disembodied face against the vivid yellow background also feels new to me.

I was painting this woman [Susanne Ortner, in the portrait behind Mr. Katz, top, on the left] and all of a sudden I said, “I’m sick and tired of white.” I just arbitrarily put the lemon yellow against the flesh, like an Indian combination. Then I kept cropping it and made it a less conventional, more aggressive image. You can get the whole feeling with parts missing.

Do you consider yourself a collector?

I’m not a collector type, actually. I throw everything out. But when I started making money, I thought I should buy some stuff for the education. Since I’ve been around for so long, it adds up.

That’s a [Francis] Picabia. His work always fascinated me because he’s such a lousy painter technically and such a great artist. I have a late piece from the 1940s when he went into kitschy figurative stuff. His image energy is fantastic, a lot of bounce.


Mr. Katz’s home features a drawing of a woman by Matisse, displaying his economy of line. Credit Succession H. Matisse/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Adrienne Grunwald for The New York Times

What was an early acquisition?

I got this [Willem] de Kooning drawing from around 1959 from his gallery. He’s like the opposite of my temperament, but he’s a really good draftsman. He supported me when I had my first big show. He came over and said, “Your paintings are like photographs, but they’re painted; don’t let them knock you out of your position.”

You share a Maine connection with Marsden Hartley. Was that part of your interest in collecting him?

He’s able to make you see what he saw. When I moved out to where I am now in Maine, it was three miles from the shore. I didn’t want to go near his subject matter; it’s too dominating. I got [“Hands”] at an auction. [The collector] Sandy Schwartz said, “You can’t bid.” I said, “O.K., when you run out of your money, use mine.” So I got it.

This Matisse drawing of a woman reminds me of the economy of line in your work.

I like his thin paint and the effortless way he paints and gets so much out of it. He and the Impressionists see the world with golden eyes. They don’t do garbage pails and people suffering.

Do you have an affinity for that kind of outlook?

Yeah, no sad songs. No minor key. Not for me.

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