Wednesday, October 24, 2007

RB Kitaj Exits

RB Kitaj has died at his home in Los Angeles.

School of L.A. (RB Kitaj - Westwood 3/08/07)
Gregg Chadwick
"School of L.A. (RB Kitaj - Westwood 3/08/07)"
40"x30" oil on linen 2007
Courtesy: Lisa Coscino Gallery

RB Kitaj has been a major influence on my artwork and my artistic life since my early years at UCLA. It is with great sadness that I must now write of his exit. I was fortunate to meet RB Kitaj a few months ago as he spoke at the Hammer Museum in Westwood. He seemed full of life as he began to lecture to an audience that he assumed would be mostly young art students. Instead the audience was a cross-section of L.A.' s art world - a smattering of current art students, as well as some former students come to pay homage to a revered master, a group of mid-career painters, art dealers, curators, museum directors, family members, and an adoring public. But the crowd could never be enough. RB Kitaj's sadness at the loss of his wife Sandra Fisher hung in his voice as he spoke of their love beneath projected images of his paintings that reflected the beauty of RB's and Sandra's time together. His loneliness was evident as he gazed up at my wife and me as we spoke with him after the lecture.

But the evening was not a swan song. RB Kitaj spoke with resonance and power. His white bearded face could have been that of a biblical prophet. He spoke his own truth and dared the artists in the crowd to follow. He chastised his critics. And he boldly praised his own artistic powers.

Most of all, RB Kitaj cared about his vision of an artistic future that continues to deal with the human condition. He made time for all of us who might share some of this vision. As I spoke with Kitaj, he glanced at a gallery invite card in my hand, picturing my painting - "A Walk With Ganesh" - and Kitaj asked, "May I have that card? Is this for me? I would like to take this home."

As I painted in my studio during the next few months, I often imagined my image tacked up on Kitaj's studio wall. I picture that card hanging now in a quiet studio.

Kitaj's Studio, Westwood 2005
photo by Phil Savenick

Following RB Kitaj's wishes, there will not be a funeral.

RB Kitaj at the Hammer Museum 3/08/07

More from the Telegraph:

"RB Kitaj, who died on Sunday aged 74, was an American painter domiciled for 40 years in England and became a leading member of the group of artists known (in his own phrase) as The School of London; alongside such contemporaries as Frank Auerbach, Leon Kossoff, Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud he raised the stature of English painting to one of international significance."

RB Kitaj
"Marynka Smoking"
pastel and charcoal on paper
collection: estate of the artist
Kitaj argued that painting should be a vehicle for intellectual and sensual communication.

"Kitaj, who saw himself as a "wandering Jew", emotionally and culturally displaced from his homeland, suffused himself in European literary and artistic traditions. His writing complemented — and, many argued, enriched — his painting, enabling the viewer to unravel the often complex web of pictorial symbols and associations."

"If he was criticised for being a "difficult" painter, this was largely because his subject matter was no less than the human condition, in all its inhumanity and imperfection, and upon this canvas he directed the full force of his painterly and intellectual ambition."


Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing that story. Although I never met Kitaj I felt like I knew him from his evocative and personal writing and images. At one point I sent him some of my work and he sent me an inscribed copy of his chapbook Sandra. Whenever I am struggling artistically, looking at that book helps. It breaks my heart to hear that he was lonely, but at least the crowds that came to see him may have revealed how many people he has influenced.

Unknown said...

...... Worked with Sandra for about well over a year,each Saturday morning. She was looking for a male model to work from and I happened to be the subject of Her initial attempts. Very welcoming person and very much one who made you feel welcome...... The brief time that I worked for Kitai,He suggested that I adopt a pose and so I mimed 'sneezing'!'THE SNEEZE'; It was given to Jim Dine and His wife who then donated it to MOMA - funny where an initial idea can end up! ..... A model HAS to break the pose,and Kitai made me a cup of tea and I sat their drinking it and very much being aware of how very 'internal'/self obsessed, He seemed - He did not make any 'conversation' of any kind; no sort of,"Well Phil, what's life like these days in the art school Life Rooms!?"..... The sort of conversation you would make in order to relax/socialise with the visitor to your home;the guy just seemed very remote/internal - this is not a criticism,but an awareness..... I have always been drawn to His best work. Dear Sandra must have come into His life,almost like a miracle! ... I MEAN! ..... SHE WAS A 'STUNNER';and with the added attraction of being determinedly oblivious of the fact! - Like all couples,they had their 'ups & downs', and She would talk about LIFE with me; and sometimes would sort out any problem I might have...... a very good 'listener';(hard to find) when you need to GENUINELY talk over something(without being obsessive!) .... We lived pretty near to each other; She was in Sydney Street(off the King's Road) and I lived at my Uncle's place on Gloucester Road,Kensington. This was in the early/mid 70s - another world' to the 'Global Village' we're all living in now, GOD HELP US! - We first met when She walked into the Life Room at Chelsea Art School; introduced Herself and asked if I could work for Her on every Saturday morning at Sydney Street (it was before She moved to Redcliffe Gardens). Sandra was one of the first people to encourage my future work, (sculpture) .... and a few years later ended up buying a piece, which was very encouraging as I was becoming obsessively self critical;and She realized this and TALKED OUT the mind set I'd fallen into unknowingly.She was overjoyed at the booties & hat (wool);that I sent for Max to wear;my neighbour at the time was a prize winning knitter! ..... I'd heard from a lecturer at the JM Liverpool Art School that She was ill; and not realizing that Her mortal life had ended; I phoned Her Redcliffe Gardens number,..... a man's voice answered - it was Ron Kitai - I asked if Sandra was there!!? ................. I just ended up by saying "God Bless You Kitai" - I mentioned it to a friend (student);the next day,and Samantha replied "Phil;don't be so hard on yourself!You we're not to know! ........ and maybe She WAS there; - watching over Him"!

herbert.e.rude said...

To 'Unknown': that is so very poignant and sad. I write in 2024 while in bed with flu and catching up on R.B Kitaj's life and work.
You have brought his wife - your friend - to life for a moment, as all sculptors do in their own way.

- herbert.e.rude