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R.B Kitaj

About The Artist

Born Ronald Brooks in Cleveland, Ohio Kitaj grew up in the left-wing intellectual milieu of his parental home. His mother, Jeanne Brooks, was the daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants, and his stepfather Walter Kitaj fled Nazi persecution in Vienna to the United States. Following a spell as a merchant seaman Kitaj's formal art schooling began the 1950s in New York and subsequently Vienna.
Later he enrolled at the Ruskin School of Art in Oxford, and then, in 1959, he went to the Royal College of Art in London, where he was a contemporary of artists such as Patrick Caulfield and David Hockney, the latter of whom remained his closest painter friend throughout his life.
During the 1960s Kitaj, together with his friends Francis Bacon, Frank Auerbach and Lucian Freud were instrumental in pioneering a new, figurative art which defied the trend in abstraction and conceptualism. Known collectively as the 'School of London' - the term Kitaj had first proposed in his seminal exhibition The Human Clay in 1976 - most of them were cultural 'outsiders', who remained fiercely loyal to the human figure.
From the mid-1970s, Kitaj began to position himself explicitly as a Jewish artist coupled with his study of role models such as Franz Kafka, Sigmund Freud, and Walter Benjamin. In 1989 he published the First Diasporist Manifesto, the longest and most impassioned of many texts discussing the Jewish dimension in his art and thought. Confronting the history of the mass murder of Europe's Jews, and reflecting on his identity as an outsider, he created a Jewish modern art, which he termed "diasporic", with a rich palate of colour and enigmatic, recurring motifs.
For Kitaj, art was a medium of emotional and intellectual exploration. An avid collector of books, his work frequently referenced themes and motifs in intellectual history and literature. The exhibition at Pallant House Gallery, subtitled 'Analyst for Our Time', will feature over 50 major paintings, sketches and prints presenting an overview of all periods of Kitaj's extensive oeuvre from the 1960s to his death in 2007. It will consider Kitaj's early presentations of a fragmented world, reflecting his interest in art history and intellectuals such as 'Aby Warburg', and his paintings and collages addressing issues of European politics, philosophy and literature such as 'The Murder of Rosa Luxembourg' and 'The Rise of Fascism'.

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