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Bert Katz's career as an artist spanned 65 years. His bold, playful, and novel experiments with gouache, watercolor, and pen & ink are notable for impactful explorations of composition, space, shape, and language. 




Deblois Gallery to feature the surrealist paintings and drawings of Bert Katz


The Deblois Gallery is pleased to announce its first exhibit of the paintings and drawings of Bert Katz (1934-2012). The show will include four series of work spanning half a century, including large-scale acrylic paintings that have not been in the public eye in 50 years.

Starting in the 1960s, Katz’s interest in abstract surrealism led him to produce 12 large-scale paintings using a small airbrush and latex-based house paint mixed with water.  With names such as Big Biological Babe; Halt! Nicht Anruhren; and Green Androgyny in Yellow-Land the paintings juxtapose provocative biomorphic forms with geometric shapes on lush, flat planes of color. As the next decade approached, Katz’s work took on a more draughtsman-like approach with Trance Drawings. Using a rapidograph pen, Katz tapped into his unconscious mind to produce unpremeditated biomorphs to which he then added airy geometric renderings. Paradox and contradiction, salient characteristics of Katz’s work, were no more evident than in The Container Series and the Alexameta Series of the 1990s. These gouache paintings in highly saturated colors combine the quasi-use of perspective with elements of design, and irrational subject matter within rational structures.

Katz was born and raised in New York City. The son of a prominent manufacturer who took his own life, it was expected that Katz would take over the business, but his resolute commitment to living an artistic life put an end to his family’s expectations. Katz trained at the High School of Music & Art; Alfred University, where he studied with Clara Nelson and Harold Altman; and, Hunter College, where he studied with Robert Motherwell. In the summer of 1955, he traveled to France where he had an extraordinary chance encounter with Pablo Picasso. Katz’s photographs of that meeting are at the Musee Picasso Paris. In 1958, Katz and his wife, the playwright Leah Napolin, took up residence in Paris and Cannes where Katz completed his thesis on Daumier. Returning to New York, Katz had his first one-man shows at the Workshop Gallery and The Weintraub Gallery. In a teaching career that spanned over 50 years, Katz taught at Music & Art, The Ohio State University (where his 1973 Symposium on the Visual and Performing Arts brought together artists Robert Wilson, Robert Smithson, Otto Muehl, Peter Blake, Viola Farber; and, art critics Lucy Lippard and Harold Rosenberg); Parsons School of Design; and, the Gallatin Division of New York University, where his course, Drawing and Painting, was a staple in the curriculum for more than two decades. Throughout his career, Katz had numerous solo exhibitions and took part in important group shows at galleries and museums including the Dayton Art Institute Museum, Rochester Memorial Art Gallery, J.B. Speed Museum in Louisville, and Akron Art Institute.

The opening reception will take place on Saturday, October 6, 2018 from 5-7pm. The exhibit will run through Sunday, October 28. Deblois Gallery is located just steps from Newport at 134 Aquidneck Avenue in Middletown, Rhode Island. For more information please contact Lisa May at 401-847-9977, or visit  


Bert Katz's drawings are not the minor productions of a painter, a series of indulgent finger exercises to help pass the time between major efforts. On the contrary, they are probing statements in which the terrain of the unconscious as well as the relationships between form and content are seriously explored. Although the drawings are cleanly wrought and their parts relatively easy to describe, their meanings are elusive and their subtleties of execution mysterious.

Called by their author trance-drawings, they do not explore a world of happy fantasies, but one of understated tensions that lie between meanings and non-meanings, logical and illogical spaces, mechanically rendered and improvisational forms as well as areas of dense figuration and broad reaches of emptiness. One wants to pull the papers apart to see what lies behind them or to tear open sections to find more imagery. Their effects are visceral as well as contemplative, an achievement drawings rarely produce.

The works are the product of roughly twelve years of experimentation. Growing from water color studies, Katz's present style coalesced in 1968. Initially, organic shapes predominated: more recently, these have become contained by a growing geometrization of the pictorial field. Perhaps coincide is the better operative term, since the organic and the geomatric forms each proclaim their distinctiveness without subservience to the other.

The integrity of these differing forms is maintained, in part, by the instrument used to record them. Katz uses a rapidograph pen, a tool used by engineers, which does not permit variations of accent. Despite the darker areas of the organic sections and the heightened visual activity occurring within their borders, the force of the pen is the same throughout. Thus, the strength of a particular section is controlled and does not impose itself on adjacent areas, let alone on the entire visual field. Although the pen does not allow variability, it provides Katz with a great measure of freedom. He can afford to cluster shapes or leave large voids, knowing that the pen will help reconcile these disparities by virtue of its special character. He can provoke oppositions, therefore, with a certain measure of impunity.

His fortune is our gain, for we find in these drawings the work of an artist in control of his means, both artistic and mechanical, as well as of his "trances." We can read the drawings as meticulous exercises in relationships of forms or as random gropings through the mazes of Katz's mind -- or, rather, as both, simultaneously. The works, then, despite their many bare areas of surface, are incredibly full.

Matthew Baigell


We were all kids and he was already an adult. We all dreamed of doing something interesting but Bert was already a talented creator.

– Author Robert Littell, remembering his Alfred University classmate Bert Katz

Our father is remembered with affection and even awe as a sophisticated and affable man whose prolific talents and passions were evident early on. He embraced surrealism and abstract expressionism with a surety uncommon in one so young and remained tenaciously devoted to the principles of this movement throughout his life.

He matured as an artist in the late 1960s against the backdrop of great civil and societal unrest, creating fluid yet measured pen and ink drawings and his notoriously ambiguous spray paintings. He was greatly interested in the concepts of paradox and contradiction, and for the next 50 years continued to expand his creative vocabulary, always allowing his subconscious to dictate the process and results of his unpremeditated creativity. In the last decade of his life, he successfully translated this methodology to photography, and found profound creative fulfillment through the camera lens.

Our criteria for this show was two-fold: we chose pieces that we thought clearly showed his journey as an artist, as well as pieces that resonated with us simply because we grew up with them and they are part of our own emotional fabric. Not included in this show are found treasures: sketchbooks, hand drawn birthday cards, napkin doodles… personal and magical expressions from the father we adored and the artist we admired.

Jessica Katz Starke

Margo Isidora Katz

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