Print Room Projects
Shayla Parthasarathy, 2015 - 2016 Intern
R. B. Kitaj (1932 - 2007)
R. B. Kitaj: A Biography
R. B. Kitaj was born in Chagrin Falls, Ohio in 1932. He began taking drawing classes at the Cleveland Museum of Art as a precocious five-year old and would later go on to study art at the Cooper Union for Advancement of Science and Art in New York. Although Kitaj was primarily a painter, the latter half of his career had involved the production of numerous prints. After a brief stint in the military from 1956-1958, he moved overseas with his wife Elsi and their son Lem to London in 1959. There he would continue his studies at the Ruskin School of Drawing and at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. He met the artist Eduardo Paolozzi in 1962, which marked a turning point in his own professional life as an artist. Paolozzi introduced Kitaj to the printer Chris Prater at Kelpra Studios, beginning a long and successful partnership that would last until the 1980s. Kitaj returned to the U.S. in 1967 to teach at the University of California, Berkeley, but he returned to England after only a year. In 1969, his wife Elsi suddenly died, and soon after Kitaj traveled back to California where he would meet his second future wife, Sandra Fischer. In 1990, Kitaj suffered a mild heart attack, which ultimately inspired him to view his life and career from a new perspective, as he started to analyze his feelings of isolation in connection with his Jewish roots. Misfortune struck again when Sandra died of a brain aneurysm in 1994. Kitaj, unable to cope with his loss, blamed the harshness of his critics for Sandra’s death. In 2007, Kitaj succumbed to the many tragedies that marred his life, committing suicide.
Prints by Kitaj
Although R.B. Kitaj claimed to be the “least spontaneous of persons”, the quality and content of his many prints strongly indicate otherwise. Although he was indeed a very slow painter, printmaking enabled him to create quickly and allowed him to develop his ideas in a more rapid fashion. He called printmaking his “experimental sketchbook,” where he would collect a plethora of images and his ideas. An avid reader and bibliophile, Kitaj drew largely from works of literature for sources of inspiration. His print Four in America – a part of his series, In Our Time - recreates the book cover of Gertrude Stein’s 1969 novel of the same name in which she portrays historical leaders with artistic qualities, such as painters or novelists. Kitaj’s series In Our Time was inspired by Walter Benjamin’s essay “Unpacking My Library: A Talk About Book Collecting” (1931), and consists of a number of prints of book covers by various authors, further emphasizing the artist’s passion for literature. Each of Kitaj’s prints presents the viewer with a range of references, including books, events, or significant figures of the past. Pogany (1966), for instance, includes five sketched heads which are reminiscent of Constantine Brancusi’s sculpted heads of Mademoiselle Pogany that were created in the early 20th century. Ctric News Topi (1968) is primarily about the dancer Josephine Baker. However, not all the references are cultural; the “bulletholes” in the lower register of Die gute alte Zeit (1969) highlights the bombing of London—The Blitz—by the Nazis in 1940 and 41. Five decades later, Kitaj’s prints continue to intrigue us with their combination of spontaneity with deliberation.