Painter R.B. Kitaj enjoyed great acclaim during his lifetime. By the time the ruggedly handsome artist died last week, on Oct. 21, a few days shy of his 75th birthday, he’d been a longtime member of the prestigious Royal Academy in London. Even though Kitaj had lived in England for 40 years, this recognition was quite a feat for someone born in a small Ohio town. The only other Americans elected to this august body have been Benjamin West and John Singer Sargent, two incomparables.
In 1995, Kitaj received the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale. He had also been showered with honorary degrees and solo exhibitions at major museums, like the Tate, the National Gallery, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Kitaj was a renegade. He swam against the mainstream and throughout his career was criticized for it. During the golden age of abstraction, he painted stylized figures with bold colors, assertive lines, and explosive brushstrokes. When spare, sleek installations were popular, Kitaj hung his canvases — some as large as 6-feet-by-6-feet — cheek-by-jowl, a hectic offering. No respite was given as you contemplated his cacophonous art.
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