R.B. Kitaj (Cleveland, 1932 - Los Angeles, 2007) is one of the main representatives on the defence and recovery of Figurative Painting from the 1960s. The exhibition, with more than seventy paintings and pieces on paper, reviews Kitaj’s history starting from his flagship Erasmus Variations (1958). This work marks the beginning of his long English stage, which develops between 1957 and 1997 and for which the critics ascribe him to the School of London, together with David Hockney, Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon.
The tour also notes an evolution in his themes as well as his obsession with Jewish affairs and writers from the mid-seventies -brought about by his interest in recovering his Jewish ancestry- which peaks with the completion of First Diasporist Manifesto (1989). It also shows the gradual radicalisation of his language towards Expressionism from his unique post-pop style, like in San Juan de la Cruz (1967) and Melancholia (1989).
His work from the late fifties show references to certain aspects of Surrealism -which he assumes more as a philosophy than a style- and to historical and esoteric sources. This era is stylistically determined by the appropriation of freedom, characteristics of Abstract Expressionism in a figurative context. Conversely, many of his early pieces are based on the surprising juxtapositions of collage -with marked discordance in the inclusion of elements- with the aim of producing an art which expresses with unadorned visuals the wanderings of the human mind. The Autumn of Central Paris (after Walter Benjamin) (1972-1973) is perhaps the first pictorial expression of his concerns starting from the Seventies: issues related to exile and identity and emotional versions of events in modern history, like Fascism and the Holocaust.
Drawings play a fundamental role in the development of his painting and in the formulation of his iconography, in addition to standing out in his many portraits of David Hockney, Robert Duncan or Sandra Fisher, among others. In 1974, impressed by the work of Edgar Degas, he begins to use pastels as a technique for a series of studies on the naked human body, which bring to his work a new sensuality and a definite eroticism. The move to more subjectivity is seen in the redrawing of the portrait of Hockney: The neocubist (1976-1987), which he starts and then puts on hold in a sober study, nude and in charcoal, to finish years after fractured way.
The prolonged second encounter with what is fundamental profoundly affects the course of his painting throughout the Eighties and Nineties, when autobiographical and confessional elements take centre stage and communicate his issues in much more intimate and direct ways, like in Killer-Critic Assassinated by His Widower, Even (1997).
Astrup Fearnley Museet for Moderne Kunst, Oslo (January 10 - March 22, 1998); Jüdisches Museum der Stadt Wien, Vienna (June 25 - August 30, 1998); Sprengel Museum, Hannover (September 13 - November 22, 1998)
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