October 29, 1932 - October 21, 2007
R.B. Kitaj (born Ronald Brooks Kitaj) was an American artist who spent much of his life in England, had a significant influence on local Pop Art scene
Ronald Kitaj – The Tragic Hero of Pop Art
Ronald Brooks Kitaj was born in Chagrin Fallson, Ohio, near Cleveland. His father left the family shortly after he was born. His mother was daughter of Russian-Jewish immigrants who came to America in the beginning of the XX century from either Ukraine or Lithuania (depending on the source) (both were the parts of the Russian Empire then). She had to work in a steel mill and as a teacher to support the small family. She remarried in 1941, to Dr. Walter Kitaj, another Jewish refugee, and Ronald took his surname.
At 17, Ronald became a seaman on a Norwegian freighter and travelled the world before entering the Vienna Arts Academy and later – the Cooper Union in New York City. World War II prevented him from continuing education: he joined the U.S. Army and fought in France and Germany.
He never relinquished the thought of becoming a painter, though, moving to England after the war and studying art at Oxford and at the Royal College of Art in London under the famous G.I. Bill.
There he befriended David Hockney, Derek Boshier, Peter Phillips, Allen Jones, Patrick Caulfield and Richard Wollheim, who had great influence of the development of his artistic style – he leaned towards abstraction and modernism, later turning to Pop Art.
Kitaj married his first wife, Elsi Roessler, in 1953. They had a son, Lem Dobbs, who would become a prominent screenwriter, and later adopted a daughter, Dominie. The happy family life was darkened by his wife's suicide in 1969.
In his art, Kitaj used political, social and Jewish themes extensively, which, combined with the very figurative and abstract form he adopted, attracted unwarranted criticism and even jeers from his detractors in the press. He had a minor stroke in 1990...
...In 1994, after the ill-fortuned exhibition at London's Tate Gallery, came the culmination: the press ripped his art and called him a poser, which he perceived as an "anti-American, anti-semitic, and anti-intellectual attack". Soon thereafter his second wife, Sandra Fisher, died of a brain aneurysm; Ronald attributed her death to the stream of criticism directed at him: "they wanted to hurt me, but got her instead".
In 2000, Kitaj made a post-it note for an internet charity auction held by 3M. The note sold for $925, making it the most expensive post-it note in history, and bringing him a record in the Guinness Book of World Records!
The artist died just 8 days before his 75th birthday and the coroner ruled his death a suicide by suffocation.
Kitaj, First Diasporist Manifesto
Edward Chaney, 'R.B. Kitaj (1932-2007): Warburgian Artist', emaj issue 7.1 November 2013