R.B. Kitaj 1932-2007

http://web.ncf.ca/ek867/kitaj.autumn.jpg
The Autumn in Paris (after Walter Benjamin) 1972-73

The sad news just in that R.B. Kitaj died 2 days ago. The single obituary I have been able to find so far is in the Guardian, here. I totally agree with what Allen Fisher just wrote me, announcing the news: “I feel strangely lost without him.” He was a friend of poets – vide his portraits of Duncan, Creely, Olson & others. I remember well his intensity at poetry readings, sitting up front, sketching away throughout a reading. But before all he was a superb painter, maybe the finest draftsman since Degas. As John Ashbery wrote:

It is, fittingly for our late century, a work shot through with oppositions that Kitaj is able to indicate but never quite resolve satisfactorily, which is as it should be: “Reducing complexity is a ruse.” (one is reminded of Scriabin’s exhortations to the young Boris Pasternak, cited in Pasternak’s memoir, Safe Conduct, to simplify art as much as possible – this from a master of some of the most disturbingly complex music ever written: simplicity is the ideal, complexity is the reality.) First there is Kitaj’s situation as a wanderer and expatriate, freighted with memories and attitudes from the homeland in which he had no wish to reside permanently, yet not entirely understood or accepted in his adopted country, eager as it is to welcome artistic refugees from America. As a displaced person, he was well qualified to serve as spokesman for our century.

As it happens, Kitaj did return to live in the country of his birth, these United States, after a show in London that was heavily criticized by English art critics, so nastily in fact, that Kitaj blamed the critics for having caused the aneurysm from which his second wife, the painter Sandra Fisher died at the age of 46.

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