Becoming an artist in New York in the late fifties wasn't easy. If you wanted to be an abstract painter and were overwhelmed, and who wasn't, by the heroic grandeur of the greatest Abstract Expressionists, what could you do for an encore? And if, like Alex Katz, you were not only thrilled by the ambitious sweep and universal scale of a Pollock or a Newman, but also thought that commonplace sights like your friends' and family's faces, or the shoes and jackets they wore, were also worth putting on canvas, then things were even tougher. How could you get it all together in one painting? It must have seemed, at the time, that the gulf between the intangible, ideal realm of abstract art and the modest, here-andnow facts of everyday life was unbridgeable. But it turns out, as Katz went on to prove, that it wasn't. His work offers a stunning, indissoluble testimony to what must once have seemed an impossible marriage of the grand and the small, of the epic and the humble.
Take February 5.30,PM ( 1972) or Thursday Night No. 2 (fig. 156). As their titles suggest, these are paintings that record ephemeral occasions, undramatic social gatherings that are casually clocked by the timepieces on wrist and wall rather than by the cosmic or psychological time of abstract art. The faces are of such individuality that even if we have not met the people, we almost feel an introduction is in order. In the same way, the clothing and hairstyles are so time-bound that a later historian of costume could date the pictures quickly by observing the width of a lapel, the neckline of a sweater, the length of someone's side