R.B. Kitaj was an American artist known for his expressive, figurative works that playfully depict contemporary life, art historical references, and sexuality. Using an array of aesthetic styles he merged the collage techniques of Pop Art with the agitated brushstrokes of Abstract Expressionism.
Fascinated by his family’s Viennese and Russian-Jewish heritage, Kitaj introduced the narratives, self-analysis, and Judeo-Christian mysticism embedded in the early 20th-century literature of Franz Kafka and Walter Benjamin into his art practice.
Born Ronald Brooks Kitaj on October 29, 1932 in Chagrin Falls, OH, he spent his early adulthood as a seaman for a Norwegian freighting company, followed by a short stint in the US Army. Kitaj went on to study at 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. Kitaj would spend much of the rest of his life in England, where he became close friends with the artist David Hockney and the philosopher Richard Wollheim.
Kitaj tragically took his life at the age of 74 on October 21, 2007 in Los Angeles, CA. Today, the artist’s works are held in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the Tate Gallery in London, among others.
Born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1932, R.B. (Ronald Brooks) Kitaj is considered a key figure in European and American contemporary painting. While his work has been considered controversial, he is regarded as a master draughtsman with a commitment to figurative art. His highly personal paintings and drawings reflect his deep interest in history; cultural, social and political ideologies; and issues of identity.
His various honours include election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1982. In 1985 he became the first American since Sargent to be elected to the Royal Academy. Numerous retrospective exhibitions of his work have been held, including shows at the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, DC, the Tate Gallery, Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and most recently The Jewish Museum, Berlin, The Jewish Museum, London and the Hamburger Kunsthalle. In 1997 he left London and moved to Los Angeles, where he died in 2007.