Alex Katz was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1927. In 1928, at the outset of the Depression, his family moved to St. Albans, a diverse suburb of Queens that had sprung up between the two wars. Katz was raised in St. Albans by his Russian parents. His mother had been an actress and possessed a deep interest in poetry and his father, a businessman, also had an interest in the arts.
Katzs first one-person show was held at the Roko Gallery in 1954. Katz had begun to develop greater acquaintances with the New York School and their allies in the other arts; he counted amongst his friends figurative painters Larry Rivers and Fairfield Porter, photographer Rudolph Burckhardt, and poets John Ashbery, Edwin Denby, Frank OHara, and James Schuyler. From 1955 to 1959, usually following a day of painting, Katz made small collages of figures in landscapes from hand-colored strips of delicately cut paper. In the late 1950s, he moved towards greater realism in his paintings. Katz became increasingly interested in portraiture, and painted his friends and his wife and muse, Ada. He embraced monochrome backgrounds, which would become a defining characteristic of his style, anticipating Pop Art and separating him from gestural figure painters and the New Perceptual Realism. In 1959, Katz made his first cutout, which would grow into a series of flat sculptures; freestanding or relief portraits that exist in actual space.
Works by Alex Katz can be found in over 100 public collections worldwide. Most notably, those in America include: Albright-Knox Museum, Buffalo; The Art Institute of Chicago; The Brooklyn Museum; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; Des Moines Art Center; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; The Los Angeles County Museum of Art; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Milwaukee Art Museum; The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C.; National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Wadsworth Athenaeum, Hartford; and The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Additionally, Katzs work can be found in the Albertine Graphische Sammelung (Austria), the Atenium Taidemuso (Finland), the Sara Hildén Art Museum (Finland), the Bayerische Museum (Germany), the Berardo Collection (Portugal), the Essl Collection (Austria), the French National Collection, the Israel Museum, IVAM Centre Julio Gonzalez (Spain), the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Japan), Museum Moderne Kunst (Austria), the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia (Spain), the Nationalgalerie (Germany), the Saatchi Collection (England), and the Tate Gallery (England), among others.
In 1968, Katz moved to an artists cooperative building in SoHo, where he has lived and worked ever since. He continues to spend his summers in Lincolnville, Maine.