Marlborough Fine Art is pleased to announce a survey exhibition of works by R. B. Kitaj (1932 – 2007). The exhibition will comprise some 40 works from the 1950s until the artist’s death in 2007 and will showcase all of the elements of Kitaj’s practice, from painting and draughtsmanship to his work with collage and pastels. There will be several significant works on display in the exhibition, including Catalan Christ [Pretending to be Dead] (1976).
One of the most significant painters of the postwar period, Kitaj openly rejected the trend for abstraction during the 1960s and contributed to the development of a new British figurative art. This survey exhibition will provide viewers with the opportunity to witness the development of the artist’s practice over time, from his year studying at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art Oxford, in 1958 to his move from England to Los Angeles in his later years following the untimely death of his wife.
The exhibition will highlight the layered ‘iconography’ Kitaj pursued in his work, inspired by his engagement with the theorist Aby Warburg. Deeply enigmatic and contemplative, Kitaj’s paintings interlace allusions to political history with motifs of European literature and references to popular culture. The artist was particularly inspired by the works of Franz Kafka and there are several works in the exhibition that reveal the artist’s other literary influencers, including portraits of Beat Generation poets Robert Duncan and Michael McClure. The exhibition will also showcase the artist’s painterly inheritance. He was greatly indebted to Cézanne, whose use of form, particularly that in his well known ‘Bathers’ compositions, greatly influenced the artist.
Throughout his life, Kitaj also explored more personal themes, often in relation to his Jewish identity and ‘diasporism’, as can be seen in the exhibition in Yiddish Hamlet (1985) and Kabbalist and Shekina (2003). The exhibition will also include a pair of self portraits painted in the last year of his life in a style that is plainer and bolder than his previous works, drawing attention to brushstrokes and use of line. There will also be several works on display that depict or are inspired by his wife Sandra Fisher.
Kitaj also studied at the Royal College of Art from 1959 to 1961 where he was a contemporary of Patrick Caulfield, Peter Phillips, Allen Jones and also David Hockney, who remained his closest painter friend up until his death. In a letter to Kitaj about his controversial Tate retrospective in 1994, Hockney said of his work that ‘Only Picasso comes near the same excitement for me.’ In 1975 Kitaj curated an exhibition entitled ‘The Human Clay’ at the Hayward Gallery. The title referred to a W. H. Auden poem in which the poet expresses his belief that true art lies in the figurative rather than in landscapes. There were 35 British artists in the exhibition, including Hockney and Kitaj, as well as Auerbach, Bacon, Kossoff and Freud.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue, which will include a new essay by Robert Storr, Dean of the Yale School of Art.