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."


Blogger PeterAtLarge said...

Gregg, thanks for checking in on The Buddha Diaries and for your comment there. You, too, wrote a moving tribute to Kitaj--and made a moving picture? Was it made--so quickly?--in response to news of his death? Or had you been working on it? If so, it seems remarkably prescient! Elsewhere, I found you picture of what I presumed to be a Buddhist monk... Are you a practitioner? (I too, led an Esalen workshop, but some time ago. Cheers, Peter

11:17 AM  
Blogger jge said...

I don't know whether this information is of any interest to you or your readers: The books Kitaj possessed are on sale. Here's the address of the (german / swiss) antiquarian:
Antiquariat Niedersätz
Berlin - Zürich
Fasanenstr. 28
10719 Berlin

Tel: +49 30 283 54 50
Fax: +49 30 280 975 39
One may contact Mrs Judith Lentze via Email: judith.lentze(at)

Mrs Lentze just mentioned this to me while we were talking about the books Donald Davidson possessed -- (also on sale).

1:14 AM  

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