Biography of R.B. Kitaj
Ronald Brooks Kitaj (1932 – 2007), known as R.B. Kitaj, is widely-recognized as one of the forerunners of Pop Art. His paintings and prints are instantly recognizable for their ability to use the impersonal visual language that inspired Pop Art while at the same time incorporating painterly brushstrokes, organic forms, and human sentiment.
Born in Ohio to Jewish immigrants, R.B. Kitaj studied at the Cooper Union in New York, the Akademie der bildenden Künste in Vienna, the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art in Oxford, and finally at the Royal College of Art in London, where he formed a lifelong friendship with his classmate and fellow artist David Hockney. At a time when abstraction, minimalism and conceptual art were dominating the art world, Kitaj, along with Hockney, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, and Howard Hodgkin were pursuing figurative painting. In an exhibition R. B. Kitaj curated at the Hayward Gallery in 1976, he coined the name “School of London” in his catalogue text, referring to this small group of figurative artists. The School of London was widely influential, encompassing some of the era’s greatest artists.
R.B. Kitaj’s works were regularly exhibited internationally, and in 1994, he was given a retrospective at the Tate, London which subsequently went on tour to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The exhibition received a mixed reception in the press, and a few months later R. B. Kitaj’s wife died of a brain aneurysm. Bitterly upset, Kitaj left England for good to return to his native America. His wife and her passing away were a central theme in much of his later work, and unable to come to terms with the reality in which he found himself, he took his own life in 2007, aged 74, whilst living in America.
In 1995 R. B. Kitaj was awarded the most prestigious honor in the art world the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale. He was a valuable and influential figure to future generations of artists and thinkers, sharing his ideas through writings as well as teaching. He has held professorships at the Camberwell School of Art, the Slade School of Art, both in London, and the University of California.
In 2001 he staged the exhibition “Kitaj in the Aura of Cézanne and Other Masters” at the National Gallery. He exhibited his artwork around the world, and in 2012 a major international symposium was held in Berlin to accompany “Obsessions” at the Jewish Museum in Berlin, the first comprehensive exhibition to take place after the artist’s death.