Allison Katz’s work engages with the complex and at times contradictory nature of contemporary artistic production, embracing the ambiguity of communication with a playful and inquiring touch that expands the conventional notion of an artist’s “signature style.” Katz’s work operates in a poetic space between mirror and mask, between revealing and concealing what is presented, calling attention to the multiple layers of consciousness that reside in a painting’s surface and subject.
Physical and visual disruptions occur throughout Katz’s practice – present both within the artworks as well as through her architectural interventions. This may take the form of sand or rice mixed into the pigment, breaking the autonomy of the illustrative tableau, or in the walls that she builds within exhibition spaces to create cuts, pauses, perspectives, palindromes. The windows and mouths that frequently appear in her paintings address a duality between the sensual and intellectual consumption of information – functioning as portals from the interior to the exterior, framing the interface of these two states. Variegating attention in this way, an alternate and abstracted “realism” is invoked in her work, approximating and referencing the granular texture of life.
Katz’s relationship to source material engages questions regarding psychological codes, the anecdote of experience, and the traditions of representation. This imagery, along with a collection of other intentionally open-ended emblems – monkeys, cocks, noses, elves and fairies, female figures, and cabbages, among others – recur through the work, forming a personal lexicon for the artist. The repeated accumulation of these subjects in Katz’s work transforms them into motifs, allowing their original associations to change and absorb new meaning with each appearance; creating a charge that can function both pictorially and linguistically. Operating on the level of double entendre or riddle, her works mine the gaps between the visual and the verbal, often with humorous wit, as exemplified in the wordplay of her titles. These include frequent riffs on her own name that, along with the use of her signature as a visual element, speak to a self-referential thread running throughout her work. Katz’s work addresses the unavoidable double-bind of subjectivity, in which the self is ever-present regardless of whatever attempts are employed to disrupt the voice.
In Katz’s hands, painting is able to exist as both an intimate document and a distancing medium, at once an archaic and futuristic activity. It is through the conversations between her works, the cumulative interplay of cues within them, that her central concern becomes apparent: an embrace of the mutability of images, and an exploitation of the tension between what is conveyed and what is perceived.
Allison Katz was born in Montreal, Canada in 1980 and currently lives and works in London, England. She studied fine arts at Concordia University in Montreal and received her MFA from Columbia University in New York. In early 2021, Nottingham Contemporary will present new work by the artist in her first solo museum exhibition in the UK. Additional significant institutional solo exhibitions of her work have been organized by the MIT List Center for the Arts, Cambridge, MA; Oakville Galleries, Oakville, Canada; and Kunstverein Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany. Notable group exhibitions include Slow Painting, curated by Hayward Gallery (presented at Leeds Museum and Art Gallery, Leeds, UK; Levinsky Galley, Plymouth, UK); Maskulinitäten, Bonner Kunstverein, Bonn, Germany; One If By Land, Powerlong Museum, Shanghai, China; City Prince/sess, Palais de Tokyo, Paris, France; Paint, Also Known as Blood, Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw, Poland; and Puddle, Pothole, Portal, SculptureCenter, New York, NY. A comprehensive monograph on Katz’s work was published by JRP|Editions, Geneva in 2020.