A WPA muralist, illustrator and modernist painter especially known for paintings with Jewish themes and narrative American scene works, Alexander Katz had a career primarily in Chicago. He also did abstract compositions in black and white and interior theatre decoration.
Raymond Katz was born in Kassa, Hungary, and came to the United States in 1909. He studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. In the late 1920s, he worked as a director of the Poster Department at Paramount Studios. He was appointed the Director of Posters for the Chicago Civic Opera in 1930.
During the Great Depression, notable architect Frank Lloyd Wright urged Katz to become a muralist. In 1933, he was commissioned to paint a mural for the Century of Progress exposition in Chicago. In 1936, he painted the mural History of the Immigrant for the Madison, Ill., post office. Katz’s works were included in various exhibitions and now are part of several museum collections, including those of the Art Institute of Chicago; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; and the Jewish Museum, New York. His murals, bas-reliefs and stained glass designs adorn more than 200 Jewish synagogues in the United States.
Katz and other Jewish artists in Chicago who expressed Jewish and Biblical themes were inspired by the artist Abel Pann (1883-1963). Pann, who is regarded as the leading painter of the Land of Israel, exhibited in the Art Institute of Chicago in 1920.
Early in his career, Katz began to explore the artistic possibilities inherent in the characters of the Hebrew alphabet. He developed aesthetic and philosophical interpretations of each letter and became the leading innovator and pioneer in the field of Hebraic art.
Katz applies this concept in the woodcut Moses and the Burning Bush. Hebrew letters appears in Moses’ head, his cane and inside the flame. The initial of Moses’ name crowns his head. The letter in the flame is the first letter of the name of God. A combination of images and Hebrew letters appeared commonly in illustrations of the scene Moses and the Burning Bush in the Haggadah, the book of Passover.
The symbolism of the burning bush corresponds to the motifs of A Gift to Biro-Bidjan. The miracle of the burning bush occurred in the desert when Moses led the Jews from Egypt to the Holy Land. The flame represents tribulation, and the survival of the bush represents eternity. The Jewish people endured persecution and pogroms on their final destination to the Promised Land.
Katz uses the white silhouette method of woodcut production to enhance the miraculous atmosphere. In complete darkness, the pattern of the flame is repeated throughout the composition — in the sky, the desert dunes and even in Moses’ gown. This approach resembles Munch’s The Scream (1893), where the sound waves echo in the entire image, or Abraham Weiner’s Milk and Honey, where the shape of the rake is replicated throughout the composition.
Among his positions in Chicago was serving on the art staff of the "Chicagoan Magazine" and creating posters for the Chicago Civic Opera. He also created posters for the Century of Progress exhibitions, 1933 to 1934.
Katz received much acclaim for his murals at the Century of
Progress World's Fair and for other WPA projects during the
1930s. His murals are at the Butler Institute of American Art;
the Evansville, Indiana Museum' Madison Illinois Post Office
and the Oak Park Illinois Jewish Temple.